Anne Penketh: Mother Nature surprises with political storm ahead of election

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A road sign warns drivers of weather conditions in downtown Washington ahead of Hurricane Sandy's landfall. Photo / AFP
A road sign warns drivers of weather conditions in downtown Washington ahead of Hurricane Sandy's landfall. Photo / AFP

In the past two years in Washington, I have survived all the extreme weather that Nature has invented.

I have experienced an earthquake, 'Snowmageddon', Hurricane Irene and a derecho. Now I am braced for 'Frankenstorm'.

I had been anxiously watching the clock since yesterday, as I had been staying with friends in Baltimore and needed to drive the 56km south to Washington knowing that Hurricane Sandy was barrelling towards us leaving 65 people dead in Haiti.

At lunchtime local time, my teacher friend received the news from an automated call that her school would be closed today. Although barely a tree was stirring, I decided it would be wise to head back down the freeway.

By the time I reached Washington National Airport to return my hire car, the country was in panic mode even though nothing had happened.

With a presidential campaign underway, neither the President nor other elected officials wanted to appear unprepared as the vast swirling storm threatened to engulf the mid Atlantic region with surging tides and torrential rain.

Not only were schools ordered shut along the East coast - even before the hurricane had made landfall - but hundreds of thousands of people were being evacuated and public transport halted.

At the Washington airport, the flights to New York were being cancelled one by one.

A Chinese tourist was trying to figure out how she was going to get home following the cancellation of her American Airlines flight to Chicago where she was to connect with a flight to Shanghai.

As I walked across the Potomac River in a steady drizzle, a flashing sign warned "beware of standing water, severe weather expected".

In the local supermarket, dry goods had been swept from the shelves in a wave of panic buying. The main fear for the residents of Washington is to suffer yet another inconvenient power outage and more fallen trees. Halloween, of course, will be a washout. But as of yesterday, the city remained eerily calm.

This being Washington, there was one subject of conversation over dinner: the political storm. What will Hurricane Sandy mean for President Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney, who both cancelled visits to Virginia?

There has been much talk of an "October surprise" ahead of the November 7 election. But nobody would have predicted that it would come from Mother Nature.

- NZ Herald

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