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Posted at 10:45 AM ET, 10/30/2008

Weathering the Election

By Steve Tracton

Photograph courtesy Allan Eustis.

According to the "20 Things You Didn't Know About Elections" in the November issue of Discover Magazine (p. 80):

" modeling has indicated that if it had rained in Illinois in 1960, Nixon would have beaten Kennedy - and if it had been sunny in Florida in 2000, Gore would have beaten Bush."

The issue of weather and its impact on elections is one that invariably arises every election year -- and is often hyped by the media and politicos alike. Pundits, especially, are looking for any and all conceivable factors, including weather, that could tilt the vote one way or the other.

Conventional wisdom may have you believe that bad weather results in low turnout. Is this true? And if so, how low?

Keep reading for more on the impact of weather on elections. Also, see our full forecast through Halloween and the weekend, and tune in Monday for our battleground states forecast.

Personally, I believe the influence of weather, even extreme conditions, is largely nullified if, as it appears this year, an election has generated exceptionally high interest and is viewed as a crucial turning point in the country's future -- if you really believe strongly in a candidate, there's probably nothing that will stop you from casting your vote. Of course, should you be neutral, even a few sprinkles or snowflakes might provide the perfect excuse to sit out the vote.

But, who am I to know? For a more expert opinion on weather and elections, I defer to Allan Eustis at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, previously at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a TV meteorolgist.

According to Eustis, who presented on the subject earlier this year at a meeting of the D.C. Chapter of the American Meteorological Society:

*Voter participation issues are complex. Voter behavior is often unpredictable.

*Peripheral (or marginal) voters are less likely to vote when it rains or snows.

*One inch of above-normal rainfall reduces voter turnout by nearly 1%, while one inch of above-normal snowfall reduces turnout by about 0.5%.

*Voters were deterred by weather in 2000, 1992, 1972 and 1948, but not necessarily enough to favor either Democrats or Republicans.

*In 1948, rain moved in on Illinois and California; but California's turning of the election for Truman over Dewey cannot necessarily be attributed to the weather.

*Voting procedures can be changed in the event of inclement weather. For example, Washington, D.C. and Prince George's and Montgomery counties extended voting hours because of an ice storm during this year's primary elections.

*Early voting, such as in Florida and Nevada, renders election day weather less of a factor.

*Weather is not a factor at all in Oregon and Washington State, where all votes are by mail.

Eustis also notes the array of weather conditions possible across the country in early November that conceivably could affect voting:

*Nov. 2,1946: 31" of snow in Denver
*Nov. 2, 2007: Hurricane Noel/Nor'easter
*Nov. 3, 1890: 96° in Los Angeles
*Nov. 4, 1988: 19 Tornadoes in Tennessee Valley
*Nov. 5,1894: 10-12" of snow over most of Connecticut
*Nov. 8, 1943: Wind chill of 3-8° in Minnesota and the Dakotas
*Nov. 6,1951: 13-20" of snow around St. Louis

The only comparable November weather event in the D.C. metro region was the surprise Veteran's Day Storm of 1987, which deposited about a foot of snow over a short period of time, literally paralyzing "rush hour" traffic and stranding motorists for over six hours. Though it's occurrence on Nov. 11 stretches the limit of "early" November.

I suspect many folks like myself would view an election day snowstorm as all the more reason to venture out to the polls.

Whatever the weather on election day, and regardless of your political persuasions, it will be a great day to exercise your civic responsibility and ....

By Steve Tracton  | October 30, 2008; 10:45 AM ET
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Forecast: More Sun Less Spook
Next: PM Update: Climbing Out of Winter's Preview


Very interesting summary, Steve. Thanks for listing the historical events. I've been wondering just how many elections have been affected and by what types of weather. Fortunately, we won't have to worry about a repeat ice storm this time around...

Posted by: Ann-CapitalWeatherGang | October 31, 2008 9:41 AM | Report abuse

Thanks Steve for highlighting my research into the connection of weather with elections. I should elaborate and clarify some comments I made at the AMS meeting.

First off though, I did not understand the Discover magazine article conclusion. Other than a trace of rain at Daytona Beach, there was no rain on election day in 2000.

I may have misspoken during my talk. While Oregon is completely vote by mail, you can still vote at many precincts in Washington state. However, the majority of voters in Washington state vote by mail.

As you may remember, I took issue with the political scientists' conclusions about rain and snow affecting turnout. The authors I noted used regression analyses and failed to look at extreme events. If you really want to plan for severe weather during elections, you need to calculate the return time for events such as snow storms. I have not seen any research in that regard in the election literature.

Again, thanks for the blog. And I second the motion, don't forget to vote.

Posted by: allane3 | October 31, 2008 8:34 PM | Report abuse

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