Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Hurricane Danger, Damage, Distraction

Another week brings another tropical system to watch in the western North Atlantic — but this time it’s serious. Hurricane Matthew is surely already causing severe flooding and other damage in Haiti and Cuba, with the Bahamas to follow. After that, there is a chance that it could paint the U.S. coastline with a week of heavy rain from Florida to Massachusetts.

You hardly ever see a hurricane track parallel to the coast for such a long distance, but Matthew is a threat to do that. Currently there is a hurricane warning in Florida, but people in ten states should be getting ready or at least keeping track.

Even before the storm arrives, the approaching danger poses a distraction. For the next week or longer, fewer people will be paying attention to the presidential election, the new fall TV season, holiday-season hiring, and other major current initiatives. Conversely, companies may release bad news on Friday afternoon in the middle of the storm in the hope that their troubles don’t get so much attention.

If the major river and coastal flooding materializes as forecast in 8 or more states, that will be an economic setback on a national scale. The damage and inconvenience would be large enough, for example, to skew the 4th-quarter GDP numbers.