Living in Virginia has a lot of appeal. For those that like four distinct seasons, and enjoy the change that each season brings, Virginia is a great location. We are able to ease out of winter into Spring, gradually warm to summer where the heat and humidity can be oppressive, but cold watermelon and a river or creek make it tolerable. Even enjoyable. Then the leaves start to change and the weather cools and autumn arrives and dissolves into a normally mild winter with just enough snow to make it exciting rather than something to be dreaded.
And then there are the occasional hurricanes.
I live in the Richmond area and we are far enough from the coast that tidal surges and the full force of nature’s monster storms are usually blunted by the 100 mile trek across land.
The Outer Banks of North Carolina seem to have a bulls eye on it that attract hurricanes that manage to stray within the lure of the dunes of Kitty Hawk and the summer fun spot we affectionately call the Redneck Riviera. Virginia Beach is just a few miles to the north and most hurricanes that make landfall seem to turn due north and head north – to Richmond.
Hurricane Sandy was an odd ball. The high pressure system over Eastern Canada blocked the northward progress that Sandy would have taken, skirting the East Coast before moving harmlessly out to sea and out of the media. But the Canadian High Pressure forced Sandy to make a left turn to the west and it slammed into New Jersey and New York with a massive wall of water, high winds and rain.
In the scope of things, Sandy was a very wide storm, stretching almost 1,000 miles – 500 miles on either side of it’s center. And storms of this magnitude are not unusual in the Southeast. In fact, Sandy was only a Category 1 and while it packed a punch, by comparison, it would not have been a big deal had it hit the Outer Banks, or Florida, or even the Gulf Coast.
Sandy would have been a major event had it hit in the Southeast, to be sure. But we are pretty used to them and civilization in the areas near the shore were designed with hurricanes in mind. We have evacuation plans and routes and Virginia even has remotely controlled gates like railroad crossings on the entrance ramps to Interstate 64 so the flow of the major East – West Interstate can be turned around to allow a rapid evacuation from the coast.
What made Sandy unique was not only the large size of the storm, or how late it is in the year, but rather the area where it made landfall.
Hurricanes usually fall apart when they hit the colder waters of the North Atlantic. But a warm Gulf Stream (80 degrees) was more to the north than usual and probably helped fuel the storm. And when it hit the Garden State at high tide on a full moon (the tides are a bit higher on a full moon) the devastation was amplified.
But what made Sandy, a storm that would have been significant in the Southeast into something horribly extraordinary was the fact that her destination has not had to deal with storms like this in most people’s memory.
So they have not taken the structural and logistical steps that areas more prone to massive storms have done out of necessity. And they were ill prepared for such a storm in New York and New Jersey.
My Yankee friends like to laugh at us here in the South when it snows. “They can’t drive in the snow” they say.
Let’s just forget the fact that our snowstorms often start as freezing rain and sleet, which coats the roadways, and then we get wet, heavy snow on top and a final layer of ice to complete the mess.
The truth is, we don’t spend the money to buy the massive numbers of snow removal vehicles because it is not economically feasible. And the further south you travel, the less they spend on snow equipment.
The same evolution has happened with hurricanes. Those that must deal with them on a regular basis are better prepared. Damage is often staggering, but it would be far worse if we were not prepared to the degree that we are.
Perhaps if New York’s Mayor had spent less time limiting the size of soft drinks and a bit more time on erecting infrastructure to keep the subway system and tunnels dry the duration of the outages would have been far less, and far less expensive – a bill I am sure we will all pay.
And now, in the aftermath, the Presidential Election has entered uncharted territory.
Barack Obama was in Florida for several campaign events and suddenly decided to leave and head back to Washington. It is clear that he is reeling from the Libyan Embassy terrorist attack and the fact that he was in Las Vegas the day after the attack pretending nothing had happened. The calculation to return to Washington balanced the “optics” of campaigning at Disney World and trying to make sure his base was excited (and sufficiently afraid of Mitt Romney) to turn out next Tuesday. And since most of the Obama Campaign strategy has turned to demonizing Mitt Romney because Obama has nothing to run on, it would be pretty ugly to keep talking about binders and Big Bird while New Jersey and New York try to cope with a horrific situation.
And it makes sense. The Northeast needs someone to help bail the water out of the streets and Obama is the king of bailouts.
Returning to Washington was an easy decision for Obama, though it was the last thing he wanted (or needed) to do. There was no other option for him. His negative campaigning in the midst of another tragedy would not help his faltering approval rating.
But Mitt Romney has the hardest row to hoe. His campaign strategy has been a balance between pointing out Obama’s failures and imparting his own plans and positive message to potential voters. But he can’t continue to campaign as if nothing happened. The Obama people are ready to pounce on an “uncaring” Romney no matter what he does. And it does not matter to the press that Obama, as President, has an obligation and responsibility to put the Hurricane first, above campaigning. And Romney has no such responsibility (yet).
And no matter what Romney does, the left wing media and the Obama surrogates will attack him.
So what was Romney to do? If he went home and did nothing, he would be criticized for doing nothing. If he keeps campaigning, there will be a media firestorm. He’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.
So Romney decided to help collect aid for the Red Cross and he has routed his donation page to the Red Cross (Obama has not done that!).
So who could find fault in that?
Well, MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, that’s who.
Mitchell claims that the Red Cross doesn’t want canned goods or clothes. They want money. Oddly, Mitchell failed to mention the redirection of Romney’s donations to the Red Cross. And of course, Romney was in Ohio. So it’s clearly political. I would imagine that Andrea would find fault if Romney were to travel to California to collect his donated items. “Romney is clearly trying to steal California from Obama while he is busy looking presidential (buy actually doing his job for a change).”
And Obama, in a speech about the American Spirit and how we will all pull together said:
We don’t turn back. We leave no one behind. We pull each other up.
Wouldn’t it have been nice to have heard those words about the Consulate terror attack in Benghazi, Libya?
Not from this president.
This is, indeed, the (political) storm of the century.