The Weather and Business

By: thewritersway , 12:25 PM GMT on January 31, 2014

It's said that the reason we talk about the weather is because we can do nothing about it. While climate change is beginning to erode that old saw, there are some of us whose livelihoods are directly affected by the weather.

I live in northern Vermont, in a ski town, and I own a small bed and breakfast. The obvious connection to the weather for me is the amount of cold and snow we get around here so that skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers, dog sledders, et al, have something to do after they've booked a room with me. And if they don't perceive that there'll be enough snow for them to have fun, well, business suffers.

A recent hedge against this has been the proliferation of upscale, destination B&Bs, where folks come up just to stay in a unique inn. Whatever the weather, guests will have a nice, relaxing time staying in an iconic property designed with your every need in mind. I don't run that kind of place. My business model is based on the fact that my guests are here to engage with the environment, whatever the conditions. And if the environment becomes crabby, we have plenty of board games, and a dynamic village full of diversions and attractions.

Each winter has its own character, and this one is no different. After beginning strongly (we were skiing in mid-winter conditions over Thanksgiving), winter stumbled over Christmas week, producing several rain events into January. The rain events were simple punctuation to the merciless cold we've experienced here. In December, we had several days where the temperature hung around the minus-20 degree range for a few days. The same in January, where, if it wasn't raining, it was bitterly cold.

But it may surprise folks to learn that the biggest predictor of our winter business season isn't the weather up here. It's the weather down there.

Our visitor come from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the metro New York area. (We also draw from the Montreal market, two hours north of us, but they're locked into our weather pattern.) Their perceptions of our weather will always be consistent: skiers know that ski resorts are expert at creating snow, and most don't wait till the last minute to book their rooms. They know there's a 95% chance they'll be able to ski. But their perceptions about their own weather is the true driver of our business.

A couple of winters ago, those folks had a more severe weather than we did up here. It seemed like every week the east coast was pounded by heavy winter storms. It might seem like this would jazz skiers to flock north, but in fact it created wheat we call "snow fatigue." People were tired of dealing with snow, and after they dug out of their own homes for the umpteenth time, they weren't eager to drive north and do the same, even with the promise of fun and relaxation. Snow fatigue also incurs financial expense, and that cut into vacation budgets.

This year, while we were experiencing bitter cold, the rest of the country was reading about the "polar vortex," and experiencing their own brand of cold. This is not great for business, and while we're a little off of our business projections for January, it's not too bad. Others in this business are suffering more, but that has to do with their business models.

And maybe that's why we talk about the weather so incessantly. It impacts every aspect of our lives. It guides our decisions. It can bless us, and it can destroy us. In the end, we really have no control over it, and we'll just have to wait and see what it brings us tomorrow.

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

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