On October 22, 2012, an African easterly wave formed in the Caribbean Sea and quickly grew into a tropical storm with frightening potential. It was the hottest year in recorded human history (though that record has subsequently been shattered), and the seawater was unusually warm. Strong winds whipped the wet Caribbean air into a frenzy as the storm moved north and west, and by October 24 the system had become a hurricane. Meteorologists named it Sandy and predicted it would sweep through the Caribbean islands and make landfall somewhere on the eastern seaboard of the United States.

Sandy turned out to be more dangerous than anyone initially anticipated. The “superstorm” intensified and grew as it moved across the Caribbean, ultimately covering an area more than one thousand miles in diameter,...

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