As the “Frankenstorm” barrels toward the East Coast, politicians are hurrying to minimize its impact. Eliza Shapiro on what to expect: evacuations, school closures—and a possible disruption to early voting.
Anxious hurricane-watchers were granted a few brief moments of relief early Saturday when Hurricane Sandy was downgraded to a tropical storm—only to be reclassified as a hurricane shortly after.
Clouds gather over New York on Saturday. (Carlo Allegri / Reuters-Landov)
The latest tracking projections have shown no mercy, and so local and state governments are springing into action to prepare for “Frankenstorm”—a hurricane making its way up the East Coast, with a wind field extending 450 miles from its center, that is likely to collide with a separate winter storm. The terrifying combo is already being likened to the “perfect storm” of 1991.
In densely populated New York and New Jersey, which stand a good chance of getting socked, officials are urging residents to take Sandy seriously after Hurricane Irene amounted to little more than an unpleasant morning last year, despite massive power outages in suburbs across the Northeast.
“We should not underestimate the impact of this storm,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said at a press conference Saturday afternoon. “People say the weathermen always get it wrong and we’re just going to hang out and not pay attention to this. Please don’t.”
Sandy is already blamed for the deaths of some 65 people in the Caribbean; winds of 75 miles per hour were felt 100 miles from the storm’s center. Airlines are encouraging travelers to cancel their flights and eliminating cancellation fees.
Cities across the coast of the Northeast are preparing for worst: Christie declared a statewide state of emergency ahead of Sandy, which is expected to make landfall in New Jersey as early as Sunday evening.
Christie also announced on Saturday that shelter locations were open across the state with capacity for 12,000 evacuees, and warned of possible widespread power outages across the state for as long as 7 to 10 days. A mandatory evacuation order is in effect for the New Jersey barrier islands, including casino haven Atlantic City.
The Frankenstorm is canceling rallies and could black out millions during the final ad blitz. Howard Kurtz on the campaigns' new dynamics in the home stretch.
Mitt Romney and Barack Obama have spent months meticulously planning the endgame of reaching enough wavering voters to eke out an Electoral College victory.
Alan Diaz / AP
And now it could all be blown away by a monster storm. If Hurricane Sandy does anywhere near as much damage as forecasters are predicting, it will upend both presidential campaigns and leave millions of voters focused more on personal misery than politics.
Oh, and have I mentioned that the media love extreme weather?
The so-called Frankenstorm is expected to make landfall somewhere between Maryland and Rhode Island on Monday, but it is so broad—with tropical storm winds covering 450 miles—that it could wreak devastation along the Eastern Seaboard and as far inland as Ohio.
This is already causing havoc with campaign schedules, forcing Romney and Vice President Biden to cancel weekend rallies in Virginia Beach and Obama to call off events early next week in Virginia and Colorado. The president is heading to Florida on Sunday night, earlier than he had originally planned.
But more than the candidates’ ability to show up in the swing states is at stake. Millions of people may be without power in the final week of the campaign. That means they won’t see the barrage of television ads that the campaigns will be unleashing, despite the fact that Mitt Romney’s team has been hoarding cash for just this moment.
Every analyst says the tight election could turn on get-out-the-vote efforts. But fewer voters might turn out if they’re worried about rotting food in their refrigerators and sleeping in cold houses. The storm could particularly set back early-voting efforts in the affected states.
Could be landing Monday.
After sweeping through the Caribbean and killing an estimated 60 people in its wake, Hurricane Sandy is posed to hammer the Eastern Seaboard as early as Monday. The sped of Sandy has declined, but is expected to pick back up and hit between Delmarva Peninsula and Rhode Island before blowing through eight states en route to Canada. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has already ordered evacuations of coastal areas and the casinos.
After hurricane leave 41 dead in the Caribbean.
The country is bracing itself for Hurricane Sandy, as the powerful storm heads to the eastern United States. After killing 41 in Jamaica, Haiti, and Cuba, Hurricane Sandy is expected to enter somewhere near Chesapeake Bay, and cover at least eight states before heading over to Canada. The storm is predicted to merge into a blizzard before then, and shower at least a foot of snow on the unlucky Northeast. Emergency preparations are being implemented, with schools pondering closure, and travelers being warned of delays. Beware, the Frankenstorm is almost here.
Sandy, the hurricane that appears set to pummel the East Coast, promises a historic potential for damage and a terrifying look at what may be in store for us—ever more frequent assaults of not-so-natural origin.
Watching Sandy on her careening path toward the Eastern Seaboard scares me more than it would have 15 months ago. That’s because my home state took the brunt of Irene, last year’s “sprawling,” “surly,” “record-breaking” Atlantic storm. I know now exactly how much power a warm sea can contain and how far that pain can spread.
And in the process, feeling that fear, I begin to sense what the future may be like, as more and more of the world finds itself facing ever-more-frequent assaults from the amped-up forces of the not-so-natural world.
You can’t, as the climate-change deniers love to say, blame any particular hurricane on global warming. They’re born, as they always have been, when a tropical wave launches off the African coast and heads out into the open ocean. But when that ocean is hot—and at the moment sea surface temperatures off the Northeast are five degrees higher than normal—a storm like Sandy can lurch north longer and stronger, drawing huge quantities of moisture into its clouds, and then dumping them ashore.
Last year that dumping happened across Vermont. In some places we broke absolutely every rainfall record. It turned our streams and rivers into cataracts that took out 500 miles of state highway. A dozen towns were left completely cut off from the rest of the world, relying on helicopters to drop food. I know the odds are slim that we’ll find ourselves in the bull’s-eye again. But someone will.
This time the great damage may be along the coast. Even as we’ve built up our coastal populations, sea level has begun to climb. There are already cities along the coast that flood easily at the month’s high tide. This storm may hit when the moon is full, and it may dump so much rain that the water will be coming from both directions. Or maybe across the Appalachian highlands will be where it does its biggest damage, mixing with an inland storm front to dump snow on forests still in leaf. But someplace is going to take it on the chin, maybe harder than it ever has before.
And that’s the world we live in now. James Hansen, the NASA climatologist, published a paper earlier this year showing how the seemingly small one degree we’ve already warmed the earth has made extreme weather far more likely. The insurance industry has published a series of warnings in recent years saying the same thing. The world grows steadily more unpredictable, and hence we grow less comfortable in it.
You see the same thing on much smaller scales. In Vermont this fall we had our first deaths ever from Eastern equine encephalitis, a mosquito-borne disease that the experts had predicted would come with a warming climate. They were right, and now when you go out to weed the garden, the dusk carries with it a slight whiff of apprehension it never did before.
Our relationship to the world around us is shifting as fast as that world is shifting. “Frankenstorm” is the right name for Sandy, and indeed for many other storms and droughts and heat waves now. They’re stitched together from some spooky combination of the natural and the unnatural. Some state will doubtless bear the brunt of this particular monster, but it also will do its damage to everyone’s state of mind.
Could hit New England early next week.
Terrifying mutant storm Hurricane Sandy—dubbed the “S’noreastercane” because of its potential to mix snowfall with hurricane weather—hit Cuba Thursday, unleashing 105-mph winds on the city of Santiago de Cuba, killing 11, according to state media. Heavy rains and high winds have already begun in Florida, and forecasters predict that Sandy could reach New England—the area ravaged last year by Hurricane Irene—by early next week. “It’s going to be a high-impact event,” forecaster Bob Oravec said. A hurricane specialist working for private forecaster Weather Underground predicts it could be a “billion-dollar disaster,” due to the storms potential to mix with snow.
Team Rubicon, a nonprofit that deploys veterans to help with disaster recovery, did their part to aid victims of Hurricane Sandy in lower Manhattan last week. Team member Curtis Coleman, a former Marine, shares his thoughts on heroic leadership.
As Hurricane Sandy barrels toward the northeast, see some of the most hilarious wind-blown reports.