In 2012, two major weather events dominated headlines: first, the most extensive drought of the last 25 years; and second, Hurricane Sandy. We all saw the immediate effects of these two monstrosities on the news, from dried up lake beds and dying crops, to flooded subways and washed-away homes, but how will these news-makers affect us in 2013? Here's a brief rundown:
The Nationwide Drought
I'll start with the less-talked-about major weather headline of 2012: the worst drought since the 1950s. Based on USDA estimates, about 80% of the country's agricultural land has been and is still affected by a nationwide drought which got sharply worse during the summer months, which are crucial for crops. That's bad news not just for farmers, but for consumers as well. Some key figures:
- Food prices are likely to rise faster than average in 2013. Retail food prices, as measured by the consumer price index, are expected to rise at a rate of 3%-4%, instead of the usual 2% or 3%. This past September alone, that price went up 0.4%.
- In comparison to early-season forecasts, corn production is short 27% and soybeans 10%, but wheat production actually rose 13% from 2011, since it is grown in areas less heavily affected by the drought.
- Because of the smaller supply of feed, livestock yields are also expected to drop, as are the prices farmers receive for milk.
We have no data yet on the long-term economic effect on individual farmers or the industry, but if we continue to see drought conditions, expect grocery prices to rise even more than predicted, and for already-struggling farms to cut back or shut down.
At the end of October, Hurricane Sandy, having already pummeled the Caribbean, made a turn north, and on October 29, made landfall just south of Atlantic City. By the time the storm dissipated over Canada, more than 100 people had been killed, many parts of the Mid-Atlantic states were flooded, and almost 5 million people were without power. All in all, early projections of the storm's damage total more than $65 billion in the United States alone, making it second to only Hurricane Katrina in damage.
Recovery efforts continue as we speak. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), has tirelessly insisted that the Jersey Shore will be rebuilt and ready for its peak summertime tourists (albeit without MTV's Jersey Shore), whether or not rebuilding in the clear path of such storms is a good idea without other safeguards. The section of New York City's subway which runs to the Rockaway Peninsula, on the southern edge of the city, is not projected to be in service again at least until the spring. Thousands of people are still struggling with the effects of having lost their homes, a problem only made worse by limited available housing and winter weather.
However, funding for recovery efforts is uncertain. With the current fiscal cliff showdown, recovery funding has been put on the back burner, despite urgent requests from the states. We will certainly have a better grasp on this issue by New Year's Day, but until then, stay tuned. This pundit, for one, hopes the much-needed funding isn't held up by Congress – too many people are depending on this promised and expected help.