WITH ITS DRENCHING RAIN and high winds still raging, the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy has yet to be tallied. But as the massive storm slammed into the East Coast, the Washington area could take some comfort in knowing that — for once — it was pretty well-prepared for a hit.
Given plenty of notice by ominous but accurate weather forecasts, local, state and federal officials wisely decided to ready for the worst. School districts throughout D.C., Maryland and Virginia shut their doors, government workers at all levels were told to stay home and — underscoring that no one belonged outside when winds were expected to gust to as much as 90 mph — public transit, including Metro, ceased operations.
Power companies, braced for the electrical outages that result from downed lines and uprooted trees, reported having hundreds of crews on standby and, before even one light went out, were pleading for patience in the storm’s aftermath. One official pointed out that, even with good preparation by Pepco and other utilities, long waits for power restoration might be inevitable: With utilities across the Northeast asking for mutual-assistance crews, there could be a shortage of about 15,000 workers in the affected zone. Fortunately, many residents seem to have readied for such trouble, taking advantage of the weekend to stock up on emergency supplies and then mostly staying inside on Monday.
Just how seriously officials viewed the storm was underscored Monday when Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) issued strong warnings. Said Mr. O’Malley: “People will die in this storm.” After a midday briefing in the White House Situation Room, President Obama said: “The public should anticipate that there are going to be a lot of power outages. Transportation is going to be tied up for a long time. . . . We anticipate that there are going to be a lot of trees down, a lot of water.”
The regional response is a welcome contrast to past weather emergencies, when the inability of different jurisdictions to agree on a course of action (witness the 2011 earthquake) or communicate (the 2010 and 2011 snowstorms) caused chaotic traffic and dangerous conditions. Perhaps we’re beginning to get more accustomed to such exceptional events; given the planet’s changing climate, which scientists believe will lead to more extreme weather, we’ll need to.
One other thing became clear as the region hunkered down: The divisions that seemed so raw and apparent just a few days before — between red and blue, Republican and Democratic, liberal and conservative — didn’t seem so urgent with everyone looking into the eye of Hurricane Sandy. “The great thing about America is, when we go through tough times like this, we all pull together,” Mr. Obama said. We trust that spirit will hold through the remainder of the storm — and what may be a difficult recovery afterward.