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Science and Technology

November 9, 2012

Six storms that changed the course of history

NEW YORK — Hurricane Sandy's pummeling of the eastern United States has already thrown the presidential campaign off course and disrupted early voting in several states, but could she be the deciding factor in this election? Political scientists have found that bad weather on Election Day typically benefits Republicans, but how much Sandy will affect voter turnout on Nov. 6 remains a mystery. The same can be said of the potential political fallout from the storm. Will President Barack Obama look strong and commander-in-chief-like as he stares down the hurricane, as Sen. John McCain suggested in a recent interview? Or could inadequate disaster relief leave the president mired in a Katrina moment just as voters head to the polls?

If Sandy swings this election one way or the other, it wouldn't be the first time bad weather proved historically decisive. From the French Revolution to the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, meteorological events have made all the difference. Here's a list of six storms that altered the course of history.

DIVINE WINDS

The Mongols may have ruled the largest contiguous empire in human history — at its height, it dominated a quarter of the earth's population — but they failed twice to bring Japan to its knees. On both occasions (in 1274 and 1281), the invading Mongolian fleets were thrashed by powerful typhoons and suffered heavy losses. In the second invasion, some 80 percent of Kublai Khan's hastily built warships sank during a two-day storm, known in Japan as "kamikaze" or "divine wind." In the popular mythology of the time, Raijin, the god of thunder, was said to have stirred up the divine wind and shielded Japan from the Mongols. Some 660 years later, kamikaze would take on another meaning, becoming synonymous with the suicide attacks carried out by the Japanese during World War II.

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