The Impact of Sandy:

Reality trumps politics in the wake of Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane or “Superstorm” Sandy (weirdly nicknamed Frankenstorm by some) is likely to go down in history as the costliest storm of all time.   That’s because it hit the heavily populated New Jersey coast, with a major impact on New York city.   Four days after the storm made landfall parts of lower Manhattan are still without power.   The storm came ashore late Monday and while it passed quickly, the damage was immense.

Sea water poured into the New York subway system, sharks were seen swimming through the flooded streets of Atlantic City, scores of people died, and power outages affected over 8 million.   In Virginia and West Virginia blizzard conditions prevailed.   This was no normal storm, it was a category one hurricane meeting up with a storm system crossing the northern US and converging in a freak event, exactly one week before a closely contested US election.

After two days power is restored in most of Manhattan, but the lower part of the island remains dark

Coming as it did at the start of the last week of intense partisan campaigning, it’s natural that people glance away from the direct impact and ask “what does this mean for the election?”

Chris Christie, Republican Governor of New Jersey who gave the keynote address at the GOP convention in Tampa last August, is having none of that, explicitly saying “I don’t give a damn about the election.”   He’s heaped praise on President Obama for cutting through the red tape, surveyed the devastation with the President, asserting that when his state is suffering the worst disaster in its history politics doesn’t matter.

For Christie, this is real.  You could tell in his speech that he is shaken a level of destruction that is both massive and impossible to heal quickly.   Suddenly it’s more important to get aide to those suffering and assure a quick response than to worry about who will win next Tuesday.    Many Republicans are incensed.   One strategist fumed that Christie should have dismissed Obama’s efforts by saying “he’s doing what any President would do.”   Rush Limbaugh called Christie Obama’s “Greek column” and chastised him for welcoming the President when Mayor Bloomberg would not.    The partisans are in the middle of a war, to them Christie has committed an act of betrayal.

Heck of a job, Brownie!

Most surreal was the criticism coming from the chastized FEMA head of the Bush years, who is widely seen as failing in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.    He said Obama acted too quickly in response to Sandy.  I had to make sure the story was real, I thought it must be from The Onion.  Yes, better to wait and let people really need help before getting involved!

Apparently he was trying to tie it to failed attempts by Republicans to stir up a scandal around the Benghazi attacks in September.   Not only do Bush era officials Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice defend the Administration, undercutting Republican attacks, but really?   He brings that up in the wake of a major hurricane?   Brownie and disaster go together!

But the storm does have an impact on the election, at least in terms of the campaigning.   It’s unlikely to shape the outcome, but it puts Governor Romney in the awkward position of not wanting to seem insensitive to the plight of the victims but needing to attack a President who appears to be pulling ahead in a tightly fought race.   Campaign events are replaced by hurricane relief efforts, with the Romney campaign purchasing supplies to assure the visuals are right in case his supporters neglect to bring contributions along.   Romney surrogates launch vicious attacks while the governor tries to soften his rhetoric.   Awkward, but what else can he do?

Both campaigns are awash with so much money that they’re buying commercials everywhere; for the first time the last week isn’t about where to invest precious resources.   At least the commercials don’t have to fake wanting to tone down partisanship.   But what impact will the storm have on the election?

The President plays a more dignified role when he’s doing his job rather than campaigning

1.  News coverage.   Normally the two competing “closing arguments” of the candidates would be dominating the news.   From Monday to Wednesday the campaign seemed almost invisible as the focus was on the devastation caused by Sandy.  This will change, but given that Romney needs to gain some traction before next Tuesday, it’s made his job more difficult.  Moreover the photos and news of Obama touring the region and by all accounts leading a successful response can only enhance his reputation.

2.   Obama’s Campaign.   President Obama had to cancel a number of campaign appearances, something his staff and volunteers in the swing states no doubt regret.   He is the number one weapon in firing up the faithful and urging them to turn out with enthusiasm on election day.   Yet I don’t think this will hurt his campaign.   Late rallies have a limited impact, and hey – he’s got Bill Clinton working the campaign trail.

3.   Climate Change:  How the campaigns can ignore this issue given the drama of this storm hitting as it did when it did is beyond me.   After the election look for a renewed push for action on global warming.

4.  FEMA is good!   In the primary campaign Governor Romney suggested FEMA be replaced by state efforts or even the private sector.   Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget envisioned massive cuts for the emergency response agency.   Now both are back peddling – reality trumps political posturing.  Big government is sometimes absolutely essential!

Campaigns are games, contests in which professionals craft messages and try to manipulate the voters in the same way McDonalds tries to manipulate potential customers.   Those caught up in the game read reality through the lens of their particular partisan preference.  Ultimately, though, reality bites.   Reality is more than soundbites, more than gaffes, more even than who’s economic plan makes more sense.

If Obama wins Republicans may blame Sandy, saying their man had momentum but the weird last week stifled his progress.    If Romney wins Democrats may claim that if Obama had been able to campaign the last week he’d have energized more voters to turn around swing states.   Neither will be true, but after the fact narratives are often self-serving.   But win or lose, both President Obama and Governor Christie made the right choice: they put their jobs ahead of politics.   In a time of crisis, that’s the right thing to do.

  1. #1 by lbwoodgate on November 1, 2012 - 08:45

    Nicely stated Scott, as usual. Got to post this one to my FB page.

    “Climate Change: How the campaigns can ignore this issue given the drama of this storm hitting as it did when it did is beyond me.”

    Yes. It’s as if that unseen power out there is saying, “Not going to talk about this serious issue are you? Well maybe this will help motivate you.”

    We can only hope.

  2. #2 by helenofmarlowe on November 1, 2012 - 09:50

    The election may be impacted as well by people unable to get to polling places, and polling sites with electricity off. And people who are literally under water may feel that they have more urgent things to do than to go and vote.

  3. #3 by Norbrook on November 1, 2012 - 11:16

    I’m still seeing some of the right-wing commentary saying that “the state and local people should handle disasters.” While they’re the “first line” in responding, what they’re ignoring is that disasters aren’t just the initial damage. I live in an area that was heavily impacted by Irene last year, and I’ve visited areas that were even worse hit than we were. There are towns down in the northern Catskills which are still rebuilding, with shuttered businesses and empty buildings. Yes, they’re “recovering,” but it’s a long-term effort and no, the “local” and “state” doesn’t – and didn’t – have the resources to handle it on their own.

    In terms of climate change, I think first the Republicans have to admit it exists. They’re politically – and financially – locked into “it isn’t real.” It’s rather hard to discuss solutions to a problem when one side won’t admit there’s a problem in the first place.

  4. #4 by dirtnrocksnomo on November 1, 2012 - 12:32

    It was great to see Governor Christie set aside politics and he is rightfully commended. The storm took the news cycle away from Romney and also shined the light on his plans for FEMA. Combine this with Romney’s latest lies about Jeep being smacked down by the CEO of GM and it’s a net negative for him I think . Especially since President Obama is shoring up support as you state above.

    I hope the FEMA response illustrates to people that the government isn’t some nebulous enemy but a vehicle for assistance to those in need.

    • #5 by Scott Erb on November 1, 2012 - 13:34

      It came up in my World Politics class I teach. I was talking about globalization and how cars are no longer shipped much, but made where companies will sell them (Fords in Europe, etc.) One student approached me after class saying, “now I know why Romney’s ad is BS.” That’s right. Knowledge helps you cut through the lies. Alas, most people don’t really know much at all about how the global economy works.

  5. #6 by thenewamericanlondoner on November 1, 2012 - 19:44

    Too right, Scott. Great post. Bizarrely, I saw on facebook today a response post to a Naomi Klein article that highlights disaster capitalists circling like vultures over Atlantic City in which the respondent seemed to think that, through some amazingly complicated meteorological mechanism, the administration had actually caused the storm. I suppose sometimes people will believe anything over a horrific truth and more power to them if it makes Romney’s side a bit nuttier, but I like the way you’ve summed up their position: intensely awkward. My own corollary to your theory would be that if Romney loses, might it just be because, although Sandy doesn’t directly benefit Obama, it reminds voters of what Joe Biden maneuvered Paul Ryan into admitting, that federal aid money, thrown in the right direction, helps real people in real ways and that we tamper with it at our peril?

  6. #7 by Alan Scott on November 1, 2012 - 22:12


    Republicans do not have to admit anything .

    So climate change caused the Frankenstorm ? Whenever an abnormal cold spell or blizzard is cited as evidence that the climate is not warming, the Global Warming guys say you cannot use a weather event to predict climate . News flash, Sandy was a weather event .

    Tell me, where are all the stories of those who invested in wind and solar energy riding out the power outages in style ? Now what was the single most valuable commodity to those in the devastated areas ? Was it food ? Was it drinking water ? No . What are people lining up to purchase to get them through the crisis ? Oh yea, now I remember . It was gasoline . Gasoline is more valuable than gold right now . Care to dispute that .

    Geeze, who could have figured that one out ? Evil, polluting, climate warming gasoline . I think in the spirit of saving Planet Earth and going green, President Obama should encourage the residents of Governor Christie’s State to stop using so much gasoline in their portable generators Why doesn’t Obama send in emergency teams and tractor trailers loaded with portable wind turbines ? How about surplus Solyndra panels ?

    • #8 by lbwoodgate on November 2, 2012 - 02:52

      I’m not sure it’s worth wasting my time with you on this Alan but here goes anyway.

      What happened on the east coast recently was the result of a natural disaster THAT WAS MADE WORSE from higher than natural levels of CO2 in the atmosphere from burning oil, coal and natural gas. This imbalance has warmed the planet at unnatural rates and in so doing has rapidly enhanced ice melts in Greenland and the Arctic that elevated sea levels along the East coast and generated warmer ocean waters to make Sandy the ‘Frankenstorm” it became. Climate change from man-made global warming doesn’t make weather events. It simply makes them occur more frequently and much more fierce.

    • #9 by Norbrook on November 2, 2012 - 13:28

      Alan, seriously, you’re a walking example of Koch Brothers propaganda having an effect.

      Why is gas so valuable right now in the disaster area? It’s not because there’s not an adequate amount on the east coast. It’s because you can’t deliver it to the stations! It’s sitting in refineries and tank farms awaiting distribution. If you have no bridges, or roads to deliver it, and there’s no electricity to run the gas pumps if you were able to get it there, you have a “shortage.” It’s called “infrastructure,” you might want to look it up.

      Second, it may not have “caused” the Frankenstorm, but the conditions caused by climate change kept what should have been just a tropical storm at that point on the Atlantic a hurricane. Here’s a satellite imagery movie of the entire “life history” of Sandy. You can see it suddenly “jump” back to being a hurricane – a Category 2, in fact – when it hits around the Carolinas. Why does it do that? Because the Gulf Stream is abnormally warm.

      Here’s a baseball analogy for you, which I saw a climate scientist use. The year that Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs was also a year he was using steroids. You can’t attribute any individual home run he hit that year to steroids, but you can say that it’s because of steroids that he hit that many. Sandy was a storm on steroids.

  7. #10 by Alan Scott on November 2, 2012 - 07:43

    lbwoodgate ,

    Thank you for wasting your time . I appreciate your effort and that you believe what you have written . If this is the case wouldn’t nuclear energy be an absolute necessity ?

    • #11 by lbwoodgate on November 2, 2012 - 07:59

      Well some will say I at least tried. Brick walls will only give so much.

      Actually however I am a big fan of what are known as IFRs – 4th generation nuclear reactors that need no new uranium sources to fuel them. They can use the abundant waste material from the nuclear fission facilities that are being stored up along with the uranium that remains from nuclear weapons that were removed from ours and Russia’s nuclear arsenal after we signed the non-proliferation treaty with them years ago.

      Here’s a piece I wrote on this last year:

      Yes, Nuclear Reactors Can Be a Part of Our Future Energy Supply

  8. #12 by thenewamericanlondoner on November 2, 2012 - 08:35

    Surely a life-support like dependence on any substance is pretty evil?

  9. #13 by Alan Scott on November 3, 2012 - 08:43

    Norbrook ,

    Historically Hurricanes have hit the East Coast . What made Sandy so destructive was that it hit Jersey directly instead of going out to sea . It made landfall during a full moon high tide and it combined with a Nor easter before it hit land . None of these circumstances has anything to do with Climate Change .

    lbwoodgate ,

    Tell me why Japan and Germany are abandoning nuclear power if climate change is so important ? For all of their green energy, this means that both countries will emit far more Carbon in the future . In Japan nuclear plants actually can be made Tsunami proof . In Germany Tsunamis really are not an issue .

    • #14 by Larry Beck on November 3, 2012 - 09:37

      I tell you what Alan. I’ll give you an answer to your question if you can riddle me this. Why does a level 1 hurricane have an 800 by 1000 mile storm wind coverage that Katrina’s level 4 didn’t have half of? And though you like to cite natural conditions for storms you seem to avoid addressing the increased frequency and intensity of natural disasters that we’ve been seeing for the last few decades. What’s your historical measure for this?

      “Munich Re, the world’s biggest reinsurance firm, found that North America is experiencing a tremendous rise in extreme weather disasters—a nearly fivefold increase over the past three decades. It reported that, “There has been a 35 percent increase in the size of storms in the Gulf of Mexico since 1995.” It also concluded that this is due to climate change, and that this trend will continue in the future.” SOURCE

      Preventing Future ‘Frankenstorms’

      And regarding your comments to Norwood, full moon or not the storm surge was enhanced by an extra 2-3 inches of sea rise around the New York area and up to nearly 5 inches around Virginia.

      “U.S. Geological Survey scientists call the 600-mile (965-kilometer) swath a “hot spot” for climbing sea levels caused by global warming. Along the region, the Atlantic Ocean is rising at an annual rate three times to four times faster than the global average since 1990, according to the study published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

      It’s not just a faster rate, but at a faster pace, like a car on a highway “jamming on the accelerator,” said the study’s lead author, Asbury Sallenger Jr., an oceanographer at the agency. He looked at sea levels starting in 1950, and noticed a change beginning in 1990.

      Since then, sea levels have gone up globally about 2 inches (5 centimeters). But in Norfolk, Virginia, where officials are scrambling to fight more frequent flooding, sea level has jumped a total of 4.8 inches (12.19 centimeters), the research showed. For Philadelphia, levels went up 3.7 inches (9.4 centimeters), and in New York City, it was 2.8 inches (7.11 centimeters). SOURCE

    • #15 by Scott Erb on November 3, 2012 - 13:13

      Germany is going big for all sorts of alternatives, including wind, solar, geothermal and others. It’s paying off – they’re making deals with China and other states as they take the lead in green technology. They’ve passed us and have an advantage in these new markets.

  10. #16 by Alan Scott on November 3, 2012 - 15:42

    Larry Beck ,

    Your whole Global Warming theory has one basic flaw . You base it on the premise that whatever is happening now is unprecedented . I challenge you on that . How do you know that storms equal to Sandy have never hit the Eastern Seaboard previously ? The time period of good record keeping only goes back a very few centuries . The Native Americans apparently did not leave us meteorological data . Your cited time period of 3 decades of five fold increasing weather disasters is ridiculously too short . What if the few decades of good weather before that is not really the norm ?

    Lets look at storms within the record keeping era . The 1821 Norfolk and Long Island hurricane . That was early in the so called industrial revolution induced Global Warming period . I wonder if Carbon dioxide caused that one . Then you have the 1938 New England hurricane . Both of these storms were cat 3 while Sandy was a cat 1 . Technically Sandy was not as bad, it just caused a lot more damage because of when and where it came ashore and the Nor Easter component .

    My point is that the period when the affected areas was so densely populated is very short . You cannot make a case for climate change caused hurricanes strictly based on that . Or that within this short time period things are getting worse .

    One last thing, those 2 to 5 inches of sea level rise you make so much of are dwarfed by the differences caused by the full moon tide differential . How can you infer that the inches of sea level rise is more important than the state of the tide level when the peak of the storm impacted the people on land ?

    The only point I concede to you is the vast area of the storm . Please prove that the area of Sandy was a result of Climate Change .

    • #17 by Norbrook on November 3, 2012 - 19:46

      Hmm.. let’s see. We also have climate data from the Greenland ice caps, as well as sea bed sediments. We even have evidence from sedimentary rocks. What they show is that every time the CO2 levels hit certain points, there’s temperature rises and climatic effects.

      A couple of years ago, I talked about a study about climate change that predicted an increase in the number and severity of droughts in the central part of this country. The other prediction was that there would be more and more powerful storms. Lo and behold, what do we see?

      You’re trying to say that “well, it must have happened at some point!” as “evidence” that climate change isn’t happening. Any one storm may be a “once in a millenium” event, but when you start having “storms of the century” every other year (as we have been), you have to say something else is happening. Then again, reality has a liberal bias.

    • #18 by Larry Beck on November 4, 2012 - 00:23

      ”Larry Beck , Your whole Global Warming theory has one basic flaw . You base it on the premise that whatever is happening now is unprecedented.”

      Pardon me? What in the hell are you talking about? I never made any such a premise. You can’t answer my question about the size of a level 1 storm compared to larger hurricanes so you’re going to create this straw man about me. Please show where anything I have said in this thread would indicate that “whatever is happening now is unprecedented”.

      ”How do you know that storms equal to Sandy have never hit the Eastern Seaboard previously ?”

      There may have well been storms of equal or greater magnitude in times past but that wasn’t my point. I wasn’t talking about one destructive storm. I was talking about how more and more of the storms we’re having are larger and more frequent. The fact that we have had an anomaly sometime in the past is not the same as having a trend in a relatively short time frame. Are you really even paying attention to what I am saying?

      ” Lets look at storms within the record keeping era . The 1821 Norfolk and Long Island hurricane . That was early in the so called industrial revolution induced Global Warming period. I wonder if Carbon dioxide caused that one”

      Oh dear god in heaven. You really don’t know what you’re talking about do you? You think I believe that any storm of any size back in history has to be attributed to increased CO2 in the atmosphere from fossil fuels?? Are you making this up or do you really not understand what I am saying? Where do you get your information from? Really. I would like to know of one source you use to justify why you would think anyone who has studied the climate science at even the elementary level would think this.

      ” How can you infer that the inches of sea level rise is more important than the state of the tide level when the peak of the storm impacted the people on land ? The only point I concede to you is the vast area of the storm . Please prove that the area of Sandy was a result of Climate Change.”

      I didn’t infer any such thing you moron. Sorry for the name calling here but you’re really beginning to piss me off. Clearly your cognitive skills are seriously lacking if you cannot comprehend simple information. PLEASE quote me where you got the notion that I said sea level rise was “more important than the state of the tide level” and I’ll show you where you are reading into everything with your ideological filter.

      You prance in here as if your comments were indisputable but I offer comments with links to support my position and you want ME to prove something to YOU?? Blow me! I don’t have to prove anything to you. It would be a waste of time anyway because your way of thinking won’t allow your perceived enemies to know more about this subject than you think you do. I’ve given you some legitimate sources to support my views and you’ve given back what? You’re uninformed opinion?

      Everything I’ve offered is based on sound science. That’s not to say we’re talking in terms of absolutes here. Real scientists never make such proclamations. But we are talking about conditions and patterns that are becoming consistent with what the research and newer equipment are showing us. The evidence we do have is more than adequate to lead sensible people to the likely conclusion that man-made global warming is real and is a threat to our planet. You have no absolutes either to defend your side on this and even weaker science to support your views. Just because you or some other hack can suggest that the climate science that supports man-made global warming isn’t a 100% accurate is hardly sufficient to discredit it altogether.

      I wouldn’t waste anymore time than I already have trying to reason with someone whose entire notion about climate change is based on the ideological view that it’s all a liberal conspiracy. You use the junk science of non-climate science sources, all of which has been debunked and soundly disputed by the consensus of real climate science and you think I should have to prove something to you who can’t even assimilate the concepts from the sources I have already provided?? How about you prove to me that there really is a liberal conspiracy to promote man-made global warming as a means to allow Al Gore and others to get rich by raising our energy costs. Show me your conclusive, indisputable evidence to support this silly nonsense and I’ll show evidence of quackery supported by Big Oil and Big Coal money.

      Do your own research. Quit cherry-picking bits and pieces of irrelevant facts to offer as counter-evidence to something you clearly didn’t understand to begin with. I’m not going to waste my time any further with you only to have you dance around my arguments that you have no answer for or apparently don’t understand.

      Here’s what I think your premise is Alan. You don’t know squat about the climate sciences from any peer-reviewed studies or writings from legitimate climate scientists. Have you even read anything that Dr. James Hanson has published. Hanson, a lifelong Republican, was the climate scientist who first made the public aware of this serious threat in 1988 before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works?

      All of your information centers around the anti-liberal bias that has been fostered by the fossil fuel industry whose singular goal is to prevent any disruption in their continued profiteering from digging up this planet without any regard to the damages it creates, now and in the not-so-distant future. As far as I am concerned you’re not much more than a toady for the Koch Brothers, Chevron and Exxon-Mobil.

  11. #19 by Alan Scott on November 3, 2012 - 15:50


    Please show me where I am in error . I believe that Germany will replace much more of it’s Nuclear capacity with carbon emitting generation than with renewables . From the articles I have read there is simply no way that green technology can make up that amount . Not in the near future . I will be happy to be wrong if you can show me figures .

    • #20 by Scott Erb on November 3, 2012 - 16:35

      No, Germany’s met the Kyoto accord targets and is actively trying to bring down emissions. Their nuclear sector is small, but they are massively expanding alternatives. You brought Germany up, you have the burden to show the figures. Germany’s been aggressive on this, a model of a country where left and right embrace a green future. To say they’re going to move to more carbon emissions shows you don’t know Germany!

  12. #21 by Alan Scott on November 4, 2012 - 17:37

    Scott ,

    I do not doubt that Germany is massively expanding alternatives . That means nothing to me unless you can show just how much usable power they really produce . I said usable . Anyway, since you have put the burden of Germany’s carbon emitting electrical production increases on me, well I am up to your challenge . Germany is building 25 new coal plants . Those just got to emit more Carbon than the shut down nukes do . Oh yea, you wanted proof .

    Just because I cannot afford to travel to Germany it does not necessarily follow that I do not know the country . I once met a German or two .

  1. Clouds from the Past: My Reflections on Sandy, Gloria and the Jersey Shore « The American Londoner

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