But environmental advocates are seizing the moment, determined not to let the interest in climate change subside with the floodwaters.
On Wednesday, former Vice President Al Gore launches a 24-hour online talkfest about global warming and disasters. Another group, 350.org, headed by environmental advocate and author Bill McKibben, is in the midst of a 21-city bus tour.
Gore compared the link between extreme weather and "dirty energy" from coal, oil and natural gas to the links between cigarette smoking and lung cancer or the use of steroids and home runs in baseball.
"Mother Nature is speaking very loudly and clearly," Gore said in a phone interview from San Francisco. "The laws of physics do apply and when we put 90 million tons of global warming pollution into the atmosphere every day, it traps a lot of heat."
Climate change worries have had a high profile in New York, post-hurricane. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had not planned to endorse a presidential candidate, changed his mind after Sandy struck, throwing his support to Obama and citing climate change as an issue.
On Monday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a news conference said he had seen extreme weather with Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in 2011 and now Sandy: "I get it, I've seen this movie three times."
"Climate change is real, it's here, it's going to happen again," he said. "What do we do about it and how do we harden our systems, how do we make sure this doesn't happen with the fuel system again? How do we make sure it doesn't happen with the cellphone system? Wanna talk about chaos!"
Gore said he's been pushing a carbon tax for decades. But his idea is not to use the money to lower the deficit, but to reduce payroll taxes in a revenue-neutral way.
"We should tax what we burn, not what we earn," he said.
Princeton University climate and political scientist Michael Oppenheimer likes the attention the issue has suddenly gotten, but isn't optimistic that a solution will be struck.
"Given the paralysis in U.S. politics, I really wonder if we're up to the challenge," Oppenheimer said. "And regrettably, it might take more than one Sandy to get people awake."
Associated Press writers Deepti Hajela in New York and Jim Abrams in Washington contributed to this report.
The Brookings Institution's proposal for a carbon tax: http://bit.ly/QELU5s
The American Enterprise Institute on the economics of carbon taxes:
Bob Inglis' Energy and Enterprise Initiative: http://energyandenterprise.com/
Al Gore's Climate Reality Project: http://climaterealityproject.org/
The Congressional Budget Office report: http://1.usa.gov/SKrvrq
Seth Borenstein can be followed at http://twitter.com/borenbears