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‘Frankenstorm’ threat: spinning local business stories from Hurricane Sandy

Frankenstorm Hurricane Sandy

This store in Providence, R.I., urges shoppers to stock up in advance of Hurricane Sandy, dubbed "Frankenstorm." Photo by Flickr user jjeff.

Plywood is in more demand this weekend than pumpkins and apple cider as millions of Americans prepare for the effects of Hurricane Sandy. Generators, dry ice and food are hot sellers, too, as consumers, companies and institutions batten down.

And with Canada’s 7.7 magnitude earthquake triggering tsunami warnings, and the approach of winter here in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s a good bet that havoc wrought by Mother Nature will be the basis for some business stories in the months to come. So localizing the Sandy story also is a good time to line up sources for weather and natural disaster angles.

If your region is in the path of the “Frankenstorm” you’re probably on the scent of financial angles ranging from transportation to insurance to Halloween merchandise sales, which had been expected to be a bright spot for retailers this year but could tank if consumers are busy dodging the storms. And if you’re not in a hurricane-stricken area, this is a good opportunity to note what enterprising East Coast writers are doing in reaction to the storm, as well as a chance to cover the ripple effects of the hurricane on your region.  If you cover chains and national corporations, check out this interesting CNBC blog post about the economic impact of hurricanes on publicly traded stocks, from retail chains to food producers to energy firms.

We often cover the losers in a disaster zone, such as restaurants and stores that will lose patrons, consumers whose homes and cars will sustain damage, and insurance companies bound to be hit with many claims. On the latter topic, see this Reuters story about insurers’ plans to handle an influx of claims when the storm hits; you might want to replicate this in a bit more detail for your area as a resource for readers. Check with your state’s insurance commissioner, who likely is offering tips like these for Pennsylvania residents about how to document property before and after the storm and how to deal with insurers.

And from an insurance industry standpoint, here’s an interesting MarketWatch piece about how hurricanes affect insurance premiums. Forbes earlier this year weighed in on weather’s effect on the industry, and here’s another Forbes piece that also analyzes hurricanes’ effect on the energy industry, if that’s your beat. Don’t forget about legal services, mediation services, appraisers, surveyors and other ancillary businesses that may be involved in the claims process.

Frankenstorm Hurricane Sandy

An enterprising retailer in Washington urges purchases in advance of Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Flickr user Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com.

Also, when developing your story list, keep in mind my “Who benefits?” mantra.  As this Business News Daily article, “10 businesses that love a good hurricane,” points out, some trades and businesses reap extra business from bad storms. Here’s a post-Katrina article from CNN Money about sectors that benefited from that destructive hurricane. And check in with skilled trades and their industry associations; after past natural disasters, it’s not been uncommon for itinerant builders, contractors and laborers to head to the ravaged areas to pick up some extra work.  Unions, trade groups and vocational schools in your area may know of people or groups planning to head east.

I would also ask manufacturers in the area about what the storm may do to their supply chain, if they depend on goods and services from Southern and Eastern suppliers, or items that come in through East Coast seaports.  What alternative plans are in the works by firms far from the hurricane’s immediate effects?

Another corporate angle is philanthropy and disaster relief; are any companies in your area planning to donate goods or services should the need arise?

By way of background, here’s a Bloomberg Businessweek compilation of stories about Hurricane Irene that may help you with ideas or sources for this year’s storms. And here’s an informative AccuWeather.com story about how weather affects the U.S. economy, based on a study by the National Center for Atmospheric Research and a separate study by an insurance firm.

About the Author

Veteran financial writer Melissa Preddy served as a business writer, editor and columnist for The Detroit News from 1995 to 2008, is a Michigan-based freelance journalist. She now works as a writer and editor for a medical research unit of the University of Michigan Medical School. Follow her daily posts. | E-mail: Melissa Preddy

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