Green Weenie of the Week: Hurricane Sandy?

While analysts will argue for a long time what effect Hurricane Sandy had on the outcome of the election (some people think it tipped the close race to Obama), a question not getting enough attention is whether Sandy was a hurricane at all when it made landfall.  The answer, it turns out, may depend more on insurance regulation than science.  The question is additionally important because hurricane warnings were never issued for some areas.

Roger Pielke has a long post up at his fine science and policy blog about the multi-billion-dollar importance of how the National Hurricane Center classified Sandy as it approached landfall along the New Jersey coastline.  We know that Sandy, like Katrina, would be politicized, but you have no idea how much so.  I’ll let Roger explain it:

Some 18 states implement what is called a “hurricane deductible” as part of insurance policies. While a normal deductible (i.e., the amount the homeowner must pay in the event of a loss, before the insurance kicks in) for property damage might be set at $2,000, the “hurricane deductible” says that if the event causing the loss is a “hurricane” then the deductible is instead set at a much higher level, such as $25,000.

The “hurricane deductible” became important following Sandy because just about one hour before the storm made landfall, the National Hurricane Center re-categorized the storm from a “hurricane” to a “post-tropical cyclone.” . . .

For a storm like Sandy the invocation of the “hurricane deductible” is a decision with tens of billions of dollars in consequences, as losses were spread over hundreds of thousands of homes. Either individual homeowners would bear these costs (if the deductibles were invoked) or insurance companies would (if they were not). Given the massive stakes, not surprisingly in the immediate aftermath of the storm politicians were quick to act.

You won’t have to work hard to guess where politicians have come down in this question.  Sandy was a “tropical storm,” not a hurricane!

Roger continues:

US Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat, sent a letter to NOAA (the parent agency of the NHC) reminding them of the political consequences of their storm categorization. He explained why to a local radio station:

“Today, we’ve sent a letter to NOAA, the weather agency, as well as to the insurance companies that we’re looking over their shoulder. We want NOAA to keep this classified as a tropical storm and to save homeowners in New York and Long Island thousands of dollars and we don’t want the insurance companies to play any games.”

A few years back, when politics-science issues were more fashionable, there might have been outrage from scientists and other observers at the idea of a US Senator “looking over the shoulder” of a federal science agency and telling it how to make a scientific judgment. But I digress.

With the politicians breathing down their neck (Gov. Chris Christie joined the bandwagon, threatening insurance companies who might dare to invoke the hurricane deductible on their policyholders), the National Hurricane Center and its parent, NOAA, are treading reluctantly in making their final determination about whether Sandy was or was not a hurricane at landfall.  NOAA abruptly canceled an early assessment effort, in part because one of the early questions the assessment was going to answer appears to have been too politically hot: “Was there a decision not to call Sandy a ‘hurricane’ regardless of its meteorological characteristics? If this decision was made, was it made Friday (October 26th) or Saturday morning? If so, who made the decision and why?”

Gee, when this sort of thing happened under Republican administrations, it was called a “war on science.”  As Piekle explains,

All of this still matters because the NHC still has not rendered a final determination on Sandy’s actual status at landfall. . .  While I have every confidence in the scientists at NHC, can you imagine the consequences if they were to re-categorize Sandy as hurricane at landfall? The implications would be enormous and the political fallout immense.

There’s more in Roger’s long and comprehensive post.  But one irony here is that if the government sticks with the story that Sandy was a “mere” tropical storm, it rather undercuts the global warmist narrative that storms are getting stronger, doesn’t it?  It’s fun watching liberalism’s instinct to loot the wealth of others and ignore contractual language run headlong into their other cherished memes about science and catastrophe.  For this, Hurricane Tropical Storm ??? Sandy gets Power Line’s Green Weenie Award.


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