It is, quite literally, the calm before the storm. The wind is audible but hardly stirring the leaves in front of the house (rats). The New York Times just got tossed on the walk. Even fewer creatures are stirring than usual at 5:40 a.m., it seems, as schools are closed, commuter trains aren’t running into New York City and Wall Street is only conducting electronic trading. Hurricane Sandy is preparing to make her abrupt left turn “straight toward Atlantic City” and most of the East Coast is about to be “hit, and hit hard,” WCBS NewRadio 88 informs us, as perhaps the most ballyhooed storm in Northeast Coast history approaches landfall.
“There’s a potential that this is the worst storm that the city and Westchester has ever seen,” a Con Ed spokesman just said, echoing the warnings issued repeatedly all weekend by government officials, weathermen and concerned mothers retired in Florida.
“The scenes are straight out of a disaster blockbuster: A killer storm takes aim at one of the most populated regions of the country,” writes CNN’s Chelsea J. Carter. “Hundreds of thousands are forced from their homes. New York City is brought to a standstill. The nation's capital is emptied of government workers. And thousands of National Guard troops are called up.”
We take such warnings for granted nowadays; perhaps even find them a bit annoying after a while. But they can be lifesavers. And we don’t have to go that far back in time to imagine what it would be like before storms of this magnitude were marketed with the ad hoc savvy that they are. Just 74 years ago, on Sept. 21, the Hurricane of 1938 ripped into the New England coast, catching residents entirely by surprise.
“Here I am writing to you by candlelight in this modern day and age and it makes me wonder if the modern scientific devices are of any use in an emergency,” a bookkeeper wrote about the storm “that came upon us with no warning,” that is the lede in a collection of anecdotes compiled by Karin Crompton and Peter Huoppi of The Day paper out of New London, Conn., four years ago.
“We thought it was the end of the world,” says one woman in an audio clip of reminiscences from survivors of that storm, which inspired one of my favorite headlines of all time. “Mainland Cut Off From Vineyard,” wrote the fabled Henry Beetle Hough, editor of the [Martha’s] Vineyard Gazette and author of Country Editor.
Events such as this are testimony to the effective melding of traditional mass media with the pinpoint reporting capabilities of social media as everyone from ABC 7 Eyewitness News to AOL’s [Springfield, N.J.] The Patch and even “radio stations” such as WCBS invite listeners to upload or tweet pictures and video of the storm’s impact on their neighborhoods. Not to mention the proactive tips for dealing with the disaster from federal, state and local authorities, as well as the National Weather Service.
Starbucks closed stores in the metropolitan New York area at 4 p.m. Sunday to allow employees to get home before the transit system shut down last night, the Wall Street Journal’s “Metropolis” blog reports. Reads a sign on the door of at least one: “Blame the weatherman. Not Us.” With notices like that, if I were meteorologist Ira Joe Fisher, I’d retire and write poetry, too.
Employees at Apple stores were placing sandbags outside the doors and, at the underground Fifth Ave. location were “cleverly wrapping all the display table products with white plastic, Apple draw-string shopping bags to provide water protection,” according to the ifoAppleStore.com blog. Apple has always been known for its innovative packaging, of course.
Supermarkets dealt with “a storm of their own” yesterday as shoppers were “scrambling to scoop up any last-minute provisions from the depleted shelves,” Alice Hines and Joe Satran report in Huffington Post.
Thousands of flights were canceled, affecting travelers not only leaving from Northeast airports but also hoping to fly in from far-flung cites around the world. Carriers such as Jet Blue announced a fee waiver for rescheduling flights. How could they not?
“If past hurricanes are any guide, Sandy will affect the economy for days or weeks to come,” writes Michelle Maynard in Forbes. “Its arrival is good timing for some, bad for others.” Winners include the Walmarts, Targets, Home Depots and Lowe’s who saw sales surge over a weekend that’s usually slow except for last-minute Halloween shopper; losers include the auto industry, which has a lot of new models just hitting show rooms, and political candidates.
We can only hope that it will not impact our ability to reach you tomorrow morning with a tale of marketing acumen or branding genius, so hunker down in those home offices and make some news!