One hundred miles as the crow flies. Or maybe it's the difference between a king and a queen in your poker hand. But most of Maryland is feeling pretty lucky this week, thanks to that small a break.
With apologies to all those harmed by Hurricane Sandy, including residents of the flooded lower Eastern Shore and snowbound Western Maryland, the mega-storm's effects here would have been far worse had Sandy's center crossed 100 miles or so to the south. By Tuesday, we learned the advantage of being on the less powerful end of a hurricane — New Jersey and New York received far greater damage.
Maybe that's divine providence, kismet or just blind luck. Since it coincided with a Marylander winning the World Series of Poker's main event early Wednesday morning in Las Vegas, the biggest gambling event of its kind with an $8.53 million prize, we can only assume that good fortune is in the air. (Greg Merson, 24, of Laurel won the final hand with a king to his opponent's queen.)
But make no mistake, things could easily have been far worse. The pre-storm frenzy of stores cleaned out of bottled water, flashlights and batteries might seem unnecessary in retrospect, but tell that to those living on the hard-hit Jersey Shore.
Dodged a bullet? Most of Central Maryland dodged a rocket-propelled grenade. It doesn't require much channel surfing to find images of the devastation elsewhere; whether it's the burned-out buildings of Breezy Point in Queens or the flooded streets of Hoboken, N.J., the damage inflicted by Sandy was extraordinary, including 48 deaths along the East Coast — two in Maryland — and property losses that could top $50 billion.
Closer to home, the National Weather Service and emergency management agencies deserve some high marks for stirring Maryland homeowners, local government and businesses into action. Many people were given the day off Monday and Tuesday, and that likely saved lives and certainly made it easier for first responders to attend to their duties.
Most people acted responsibly, stocking up with emergency supplies and hunkering down with their families as the storm approached. That Hurricane Irene and even the summer derecho wind storm hit Baltimore harder, knocking out power to far more homes than Sandy did, was as unforeseeable as it was lucky.
Still, not everyone — or everything — went as planned. Could Maryland just once weather a big storm without a major sewage spill? It seems that for all the hundreds of millions of dollars invested in sewage treatment plants — whether as the result of the flush tax or higher Baltimore water and sewer rates — storm-related sewage spills have become the norm in recent years. This time, the victim was the Little Patuxent River in Howard County, where 20 million to 25 million gallons of untreated wastewater poured in from a treatment plant in Savage.
We would also question the wisdom of aggressive parking enforcement in the midst of the storm. It's one thing to keep Baltimore's emergency routes clear (and a tow truck would seem the better enforcement tool for that), but to write tickets for relatively minor violations when the city was also telling people not to drive seems entirely unproductive. It reinforces the view that parking tickets are issued to raise revenue and not to make the city safer or more functional.
Indeed, before we get too carried away patting ourselves on the back, it might be worthwhile to wait for a full assessment of the storm's results — as well as an objective evaluation of government's response on the state, federal and local levels. That Maryland was lucky is clear; that we were as well prepared as we need to be under the circumstances wasn't really tested.
Hurricane Sandy might have been classified as a once-in-a-lifetime storm, but man-made climate change has altered the calculus of such events. Scientists warn that severe weather is going to become more commonplace. We will probably see Sandy's like again — and much sooner than we might expect.
Although thousands are still without power across the state, and our hearts go out to those suffering elsewhere, it's difficult not to think ourselves as holding a winning hand. But just as poker involves both skill and chance, surviving bad weather requires a combination of good fortune and preparation. Just like Mr. Merson, who overcame drug addiction to become the nation's top poker player, you have to make the most of the cards you've been dealt.