In addition to the storm's impact, consumers might scale back on holiday shopping if they are concerned about the "fiscal cliff." That's the name for tax hikes and spending cuts that are scheduled to go into effect next year if Congress and President Barack Obama cannot reach a deal to avert them.
The retail sales report is the government's first look at consumer spending. Consumer spending is important because it drives nearly 70 percent of economic activity.
The economy grew at a solid 2.7 percent annual rate in the July-September quarter. But the gains were mostly because businesses stepped up restocking, which drove more factory production.
Consumer spending actually slowed over the summer from the previous quarter. And many economists worry that consumers have remained cautious in the final three months of the year, because of the storm and their fears about higher taxes next year. That should keep growth below an annual rate of 2 percent in the October-December quarter, they say.