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Weather Nerd

Sandy Now a Hurricane, and a Serious U.S. Threat

October 24th, 2012 - 12:22 pm

P.S. Speaking of politics, it’s worth noting that two major swing states — Virginia and New Hampshire — plus North Carolina and Pennsylvania, if you consider those genuine swing states (I never have; I’ve always said Obama would only win NC if he’s comfortably ahead nationally, and the same in reverse for Romney in PA), and to a lesser extent Florida, could be impacted by this storm in the week before the election. Heck, the eastern part of Ohio, the swing state to end all swing states, may get some snow from it. Campaign travel planners, be alert.

P.P.S. If Sandy does strike the northeast a week before the election, and does cause massive, widespread and long-lasting power outages, as well as enormous damage to trees and such — not to mention crippling snow over the Appalachians (and maybe parts of Ohio???) — it might affect more than campaign travel. We could well see depressed voter turnout throughout the affected region, if the infrastructural damage is still being significantly felt a week later, which seems possible. That might not affect the outcome of the presidential race (unless Ohio really is hard-hit), but, as my father points out via e-mail, it could harm President Obama’s popular vote totals, if folks in Democratic strongholds — particularly New York — don’t vote because the storm’s aftermath makes it too inconvenient (and besides, they know they aren’t in a swing state, so why go to all the extra trouble?). There’s been a lot of talk about Obama winning the electoral vote but losing the popular vote, like Bush in 2000; in a worst-case scenario, Sandy’s effects could made that more likely. Sandy could also impact some key congressional races, notably the U.S. Senate battles in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

This is all highly speculative, of course, but an interesting possibility to consider, and probably more worthy of your attention today than anything Donald Trump or Gloria Allred might have to say.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Most states in the region potentially affected by Sandy – including New Hampshire, Virginia and Pennsylvania, and the Senate battlegrounds of Connecticut and Massachusetts – do not permit routine early voting. You can vote absentee, but only with a specific allowable excuse. So almost everyone must vote on Election Day.

Ohio, of course, does have early voting. The campaigns may want to put an even greater emphasis on encouraging it now, just in case Sandy’s western reaches have a significant impact in the Buckeye State. (I frankly have no real idea how realistic that possibility is, though Joe Bastardi does have far eastern Ohio on the boundary of his “damaging snow threat” zone.)

UPDATE: Harold Ambler, a fellow weatherblogger and a climate-change skeptic (lest anyone think that this storm is some sort of AGW hype invention), sums things up nicely. He actually criticizes the National Weather Service, gently, for not hyping the storm enough, noting that the NWS is still describing this as a “low” probability event:

Top-of-the-line computer models have been forecasting a devastating blow delivered by Hurricane Sandy to the Northeast early next week for several days now. In the computer model scenarios, Sandy could come ashore anywhere from Maryland to Cape Cod and would do damage to a wide swath of coastline and many inland locations as well. …

That the NWS wants to avoid worrying the public over a “fish storm” made perfect sense for the initial two or three days that Sandy began to be seen by the computer models. However, as of this writing, the great majority of members of NOAA’s Global Forecast System climate model are indicating a curve toward New York City and the densely populated I-95 corridor.

With Arctic air rushing south on the western edge of Sandy as it makes landfall, the potential exists for an unusual (though not unprecedented) one-two punch, with the dire effects of a hurricane on the coast (and well inland) and a crippling snowstorm 250 miles to the west.

A full moon early next week, and its attendant astronomic high tides, stands to increase the effects of beach erosion and storm surge.

In this observer’s opinion, preliminary preparations for the tens of millions living in the region that would be affected by Sandy should be begun before the weekend, with unusually long power outages among the risks posed by the storm.

There’s a reason that the NWS avoids making forecasts too soon: It can’t afford to cry wolf. But it’s time to let the public know that something is in the offing here.

The situation is that serious.

This observer would tend to agree, though I’d say we probably have one more day to watch and wait. If the model forecasts still look dire tomorrow, it’s time to begin really preparing in earnest for the worst.

On Twitter, Ambler adds:

Hurricane Sandy has the potential to make people forget Irene and Halloween snow from 2011. May it instead turn out to sea…

Possible effects of Hurricane Sandy:
1. SEVERE coastal erosion
2. damaging storm surge
3. flooding rains
4. crippling snows on western edge
5. people without electricity for a long time
6. voting turnout affected the next week
7. President Obama having to tend to a national emergency in the run-up to the election

I might add, “8. Mitt Romney needing to blunt harsh criticisms of President Obama in the final days of the campaign because of the perception that it’s unseemly to attack the president when he’s tending to a national emergency.” Unless of course the Obama Administration’s response is perceived as inadequate or incompetent, in which case all bets are off. Likewise, in this scenario, Obama would need to cool it with the attacks on Romney during the final week of the campaign, and with campaigning generally, in order to appear focused on addressing the national emergency. Joe Biden and perhaps Bill Clinton would probably become Obama’s major campaign-trail surrogates in such a scenario, and their message would need to be less hard-edged because of the sensitivities of the moment.

I suspect, if Sandy continues to look like a big potential problem — a “big f***ing deal,” as someone once said — we’ll soon start to see conspiracy theories suggesting that Obama will try to delay the election because of the storm. That won’t happen. But, in a worst-case scenario, Sandy and its aftermath could definitely become a big part of the story of the election.

ANOTHER UPDATE: More from Geoff Fox:

I just took a look at the European (ECMWF) and GFS models. They’re our best predictors for medium range weather. Both are now predicting an East Coast strike for Hurricane Sandy. Obviously that is not good news.

The GFS brings landfall to Maine while the Euro hits New Jersey just south of New York City.

Let’s get real for a moment. Both of these models have varied greatly over the last few days. They have changed trajectories by hundreds of miles. There’s a big difference between striking Cape Cod and Asbury Park as the European model has suggested over the last day.

I am more concerned than I was yesterday. Both of today’s scenarios would affect Connecticut and, of course, we’re the compromise position between the two.

It’s still too early to go nuts, but it is the time to start thinking about what you wish you’d had on hand during Irene.

Do you use rechargeable batteries? Are they charged?

Do you have food in your freezer you’d like to start using now?

Are your prescriptions up-to-date?

New England is nothing more than a potential target for Hurricane Sandy. It is still too early to think its post-weekend location can be accurately forecast.

As we get closer we’ll know more.

Yup.

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