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Forecast: Hurricane Ian makes landfall in Florida, Nord Stream suffers suspicious leaks, and new SCOTUS term begins

A photo of a coronavirus testing facility in Toronto. There are four people in protective gear seated at desks waiting for tests subjects.

Welcome to Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories from the editors at Factal.

We publish our forward-looking note each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead.

At least four leaks have been detected in two Nord Stream pipelines running from Russia to Germany, sparking allegations of sabotage. In this week’s Factal Forecast podcast, Senior Editor Jimmy Lovaas and Editor Alex Moore discuss reactions to the leaks and the possible impacts they could have on Europe’s energy crisis.

Listen now or download on your favorite platform.

Week of Sept. 30-Oct. 7
A Look Ahead

Oct. 1 – Canada drops COVID border requirements 

Travelers will no longer need to provide proof of vaccination against coronavirus to enter Canada starting Saturday, as the country eases its pandemic border measures.

What’s happened so far 
Officials from Canadian border communities called on the government to lift travel restrictions, including the use of the ArriveCAN app used to upload health documents, claiming they discouraged Americans from visiting to the detriment of local economies. Vaccine mandates have also been a political flashpoint, with the self-proclaimed “Freedom Convoy” of truckers bringing the capital of Ottawa to a standstill for weeks in February before the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act to restore order. 

The impact 
Canada’s health minister said the decision is not an indication the pandemic is over, but that the rate of cases imported from across the border is “insignificant.” Meanwhile, critics said the impact of the restrictions could have long-lasting implications on cross-border trips even after they’re lifted. There’s no indication whether the United States will follow suit and lift its own vaccination requirement on foreign visitors. 

Oct. 2 – Bulgaria elections

Bulgarians will choose a new government Sunday, the fourth vote taking place in the Balkan country in less than two years.

What’s happened so far 
Former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov is leading the polls with 26 percent of the votes, while Kiril Petkov, who led the country until August, is currently second at approximately 18 percent. The Bulgarian Socialist Party and the anti-European party Vazrazhdane are vying for third place. Meanwhile, police have made a series of arrests for suspected voting fraud across the country ahead of the vote.

The impact 
Analysts predict this weekend’s vote will not secure a stable coalition, with Bulgaria continuing to be run by a caretaker government and a fifth election on the horizon next year. In the absence of a stable government, President Rumen Radev’s appointed cabinet gives him almost unlimited power. Radev, who has a history of pro-Russian comments, was previously criticized for trying to enter into negotiations to resume gas supplies with Gazprom.

Oct. 2 – Brazil presidential election  

Brazilians will go to polls Sunday to choose between current President and strongman Jair Bolsonaro, and former leftist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

What’s happened so far  
Members of the Organization of American States will oversee the election to elect a president, all national and regional chambers and 27 governors. In an unprecedented move by the country’s electoral court, members of the armed forces and civilians have been invited to take part in a transparency commission following Bolsonaro’s repeated claims suggesting electronic polling machines that have been used in the country’s elections for more than two decades produce results that are impossible to verify. Brazil’s far-right president claimed the armed forces are the only ones that can guarantee political legitimacy and the rule of law in the country since his campaign for the 2018 polls. He also claimed to have unconditional support of the military, regardless of Sunday’s results.

The impact 
Bolsonaro, who is the Liberal Party’s candidate, and former President Lula da Silva, candidate of the Workers Party, will compete for a new term in office amid months of accusations of conspiracies to tamper with results. Polls suggest Lula’s popularity remains strong, despite his past conviction in the Lava Jato anti-corruption case. The latest surveys show that the progressive candidate could obtain more than 50 percent of the votes needed to avoid a runoff, but a tight race is expected. The decisive victory could be defined by approximately 7 percent of undecided voters.

Oct. 3 – New SCOTUS term begins  

The highest court in the United States will start a new session on Monday, during which it will make major decisions on voting rights, affirmative action and free speech.

What’s happened so far 
The most conservative Supreme Court in generations lived up to its billing in its last session by overturning Roe v. Wade and limiting the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority, among other decisions. This will also be the first full session with a justice appointed by President Joe Biden. Ketanji Brown Jackson officially took over for Stephen Breyer as associate justice on June 30.

The impact 
The makeup of the court will remain the same unless there are multiple unexpected openings. That means liberals will keep a close eye on the decision of Moore v. Harper, which could give state legislatures the power to run federal elections as it sees fit. The court may also end affirmative action when it comes to university admissions, as well as let religious vendors refuse to provide services to LGBTQ people.

Oct. 6 – Tax exemption for prepared foods ends in Puerto Rico  

On Thursday, the current tax exemptions for food in Puerto Rico will end as the island continues reeling from Hurricane Fiona.

What’s happened so far 
Last Thursday, the United States declared a state of emergency for more than 78 municipalities in Puerto Rico following the effects of Hurricane Fiona across the island. Several people were killed, bridges collapsed, houses destroyed, and nationwide power and water outages have ensued since the hurricane made landfall on Sept. 18, with more than 30 percent of the island currently with no electricity. The sales and use tax exemption tackled the power outage issue directly by making prepared foods cheaper for those affected. 

The impact 
Fiona battered Puerto Rico’s cities and towns, and with so many people still waiting for compensation for the devastation that Hurricane Maria caused in 2017, the tax exemption helped those suffering with some respite. With the exemption discontinued, the third of the island with power outages will have to rely on external generators if they have them, which then puts more pressure on energy distribution. Similar to Hurricane Maria’s after effects, Puerto Rican residents are frustrated with the speed and provincial distribution of the federal emergency aid being given, and this will most likely continue. 

Oct. 6 – EU heads of state summit in Prague

European Union heads of state will meet at Prague Castle in the Czech Republic on Thursday for a two-day “informal” summit to discuss the Ukraine war, energy crisis and failing economy.

What’s happened so far 
Despite a surge of energy price strikes and inflation across the 27 member states, the European Commission reaffirmed the bloc’s “unshakable” solidarity with Kyiv, announcing a set of proposals to curb the energy crisis that has followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The impact 
The first day will host the inaugural European Political Community meeting, a France-proposed initiative that would allow non-member states in the Balkans and the United Kingdom to join in talks on common interests. The second day is expected to focus on a new proposal for further sanctions against Russia for the war in Ukraine, in response to recent escalation, including President Vladimir Putin’s partial mobilization order and an internationally-condemned “sham” referendum to annex parts of eastern Ukraine. 

What Else Matters

An animated gif of a satellite image as Hurricane Ian makes landfall near Fort Meyers Florida.
Hurricane Ian made landfall in southwest Florida on Wednesday afternoon as a powerful Category 4 storm.  (GIF: CIRA / NOAA)

Hurricane Ian

A day after making landfall on Florida’s southwest coast just shy of a Category 5 hurricane, Tropical Storm Ian is continuing to batter the state. Significant flooding submerged portions of both Central Florida and the southwest coast, with record-breaking rainfall and a massive storm surge preventing creeks and rivers from draining. In coastal towns such as Fort Myers and Port Charlotte, water overtook homes and at least one hospital, forcing frequent rescues and significantly damaging infrastructure. More than 2.5 million people lost power in the storm, with sustained winds near the hurricane’s eye estimated to be near 150 mph. 

Watch for: Ian’s movement stalled over Florida, meaning much of the state could continue to experience significant flooding in the days ahead. With some roads washed out and power outages ongoing, recovery efforts and damage assessments will likely be slowed. Thursday morning, President Biden issued a major disaster declaration, mobilizing federal resources to the state. The storm is forecast to hit the South Carolina coast on Friday afternoon, after briefly emerging over the Atlantic Ocean, bringing with it a new storm surge and coastal flooding. Ian could re-intensify to a hurricane before its second landfall, but will weaken as it moves inland over the weekend.

Nord Stream gas pipeline leak

Significant leaks were detected this week on both Nord Stream gas pipelines acting as key energy suppliers from Russia to Europe. Nord Stream described the leaks, which were found in Baltic Sea waters off of Sweden, Poland, Denmark and Germany, as “unprecedented.” Swedish seismic authorities confirmed they detected two large explosions near the location of the leaks, and though the pipelines were not making deliveries to Germany as part of Russia’s push to utilize energy leverage to pressure Europe to cease support for Ukraine, the pipelines were filled with gas at the time.

Watch for: Suspicions were immediately raised that Russia had sabotaged the pipelines, with Poland and Ukraine outright accusing Moscow of doing so, and Denmark saying that it could not be ruled out. If confirmed, sabotage of the key pipelines would mark a significant salvo in Russia’s ongoing energy war against Europe that has witnessed the Kremlin slash energy supplies, leading to skyrocketing prices as winter approaches. While Nord Stream 1 was operating at limited capacity before shutting indefinitely earlier in September, the leaks make it likely that flows will not resume before winter sets in. Nord Stream 2 was canceled just days prior to the invasion of Ukraine. The leaks coincide with Putin’s announcement that Russia would undergo significant manpower mobilization, signaling that Moscow was doubling down on its war effort in Ukraine for at least the medium term. 

Extended Outlook

What’s on our radar in the coming weeks…

Sept. 30-Oct. 7 

Sept. 30

  • EU plans summit on emergencyenergy plans

Oct. 1

  • Latvia elections
  • Kurdistan parliamentary elections
  • Gas prices to increase in Ecuador
  • Canada drops coronavirus vaccine requirement to enter country

Oct. 2

  • Brazil presidential election
  • Bulgaria elections
  • London Marathon
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina House of Representatives election
  • Ukraine debate at UN Human Rights Council

Oct. 3

  • Eurogroup meeting
  • New SCOTUS term begins

Oct. 4

  • UK’s National Grid emergencyexercise

Oct. 5

  • Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez meets German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Madrid

Oct. 6

  • EU-Israel Association Council will resume negotiations after a decade
  • Nobel Prize for Literature announced
  • EU heads of state summit in Prague

Oct. 7

  • Lesotho general elections

Oct. 8-14 

Oct. 8

  • UK railway workers nationwide plan fresh strike

Oct. 9

  • Austrian presidential election

Oct. 10

  • World mental health day
  • France expected to start sending gas to Germany

Oct. 11

  • EU Informal meeting of energy ministers
  • Alex Saab trial in Miami
  • NATO secretary general holds press conference ahead of NATO Defence Ministers meeting in Brussels
  • Japan will ease coronavirus border control requirements 

Oct. 12

  • NATO defense ministers meet in Brussels 

Oct. 13

  •  EU Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting
  • Italy’s parliament meets

Oct. 15-21 

Oct. 16 

  • 20th Chinese Communist Party National Congress
  • Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will visit Australia
  • World Health Organization summit in Berlin

Oct. 17

  • Former South Africa president Jacob Zuma’s corruption trial
  • OECD-Southeast Asia Ministerial Forum 
  • EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting

Oct. 19

  • Judgment on appeal filed by two people charged with committing terrorism for their role in Garissa University terrorist attack in Kenya
  • Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation finance ministers meeting

Oct. 20

  • Renewed Israeli guidelines for West Bank entry come into effect

Oct. 21

  • EU leaders meet in Brussels

Oct. 22-28 

Oct. 24

  • Taiwan hosts the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy’s World Movement for Democracy summit

Oct. 25

  • German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen host a conference on post-war reconstruction of Ukraine 

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