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Atmospheric Impacts on the Election

1 Nov 2012, 8:06 am

Atmospheric Impacts on the Election

After historic power losses up and down the East Coast, many people are wondering if and how they will be able to cast their vote next Tuesday. In recent elections, millions of votes have been cast via electronic voting machines, but paper ballots might make a comeback this year.


From NBC News: 

  New York City Board of Elections commissioner J.C. Polanco said in an interview Wednesday night that the ten commissioners are working with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Michael Bloomberg to find suitable substitute sites to voting places that have been inundated by sewer water, have no electrical power, or are too damaged to use on Election Day.

  He said one option officials are weighing is to combine polling locations, while another is “having tents near the polling sites where the voters have normally voted, with state-funded generators, where our machines will be able to be placed, and our workers will be able to serve the voters.”

  The ten-member bipartisan Board of Elections faces a massive logistical task since there are four million voters in New York City; in the 2008 election, 2.6 million cast ballots.

Elsewhere in storm-affected states:

  • New Jersey officials were still assessing polling site conditions. Workers were still in the process of checking on conditions at poll locations in the hard-hit county. 
  • In New Hampshire where thousands lost electric power due to the storm,  power should be on line in time for Election Day.
  • In West Virginia, as early voting continued, the storm’s impact was felt in a tragic way: the name of one state legislative candidate, Republican John Rose, will remain on the ballot after he was killed during the snowstorm Tuesday by a falling tree limb. Rose’s death necessitated a special write-in candidate filing period with candidates needing to file by 5 p.m. on Thursday. If voter choose Rose the governor will select a legislator from a list of three candidates submitted by the Republican Party executive committee in Rose’s home county.

    Map below shows areas still without power as of Thursday 3AM EDT (via Google)


     It’s not all bad news though. Power crews are working around the clock, and projections for power restoration look much better than after Irene hit last year.

    (via Christian Science Monitor) — Power is being restored faster in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy than it was after Hurricane Irene, suggesting that utilities learned some lessons from last year’s storm and may have been better prepared this time.

    In terms of power outages, Hurricane Sandy and Irene were similar. Sandy knocked out power to 8.2 million customers across 20 states, while Irene left 8.4 million customers in the dark in 13 states, according to the Department of Energy (DOE).

    But the rate at which power is being restored this week tops power companies’ efforts after Irene. Among the 12 states that experienced both hurricanes, an average of 1 million customers per day got their power back after Irene. In Sandy’s aftermath, that number has ticked upward to 1.2 million.

While the clean-up and continued power outages from Sandy could make voting in the Northeast tricky, they aren’t the only weather factors impacting voters. Here are some interesting findings from a study in the Journal of Politics, done just prior to the 2008 Presidential Election.

Politics and the Weather via Oklahoma Weather Lab: Gomez et al. (Journal of Politics, Aug. 2007). 

Gomez et al. collected meteorological data recorded at weather stations across the lower 48 United States for presidential election days between 1948 and 2000. …What they found was that each inch of rain experienced on election day drove down voter turnout by an average of just under 1%, while each inch of snow knocked 0.5% off turnout. Though the effect of snow is less on a “per inch” basis, since multiple-inch snowfall totals are far more common than multiple-inch rainfall events, we can conclude that snow is likely to have a bigger negative impact on voter turnout.

Furthermore, Gomez et al. noted that when bad weather did suppress voter turnout, it tended to do so in favor of the republican candidate, to the tune of around 2.5% for each inch of rainfall above normal. In fact, when they simulated the 14 presidential elections between 1948 and 2000 with sunny conditions nationwide, they found two instances in which bad weather likely changed the electoral college outcome – once in North Carolina in 1992, and once in Florida in 2000. The latter change is particularly notable, as it would have resulted in Al Gore rather than George Bush winning the presidential election that year.

 Will bad weather supress voter turnout this year? The GFS model is pumping out calm, dry weather for much of the country towards Election Day, but keep in mind, this is too far in advance to bank on (just an early guess). Very little precipitation in the forecast, with cool temps dipping into the Northeast. The only concerns at this time are the chances for some showers along the Atlantic coast, and the snowstorm making its way through central Canada that could skirt the northern border of Minnesota and the Great Lakes. Rain and snow are likely for the Northwest, but are a welcome sight after a record-setting dry spell this summer.

Here’s the accumulated precip maps from the model, valid Tuesday morning, midday, and evening:

This is all subject to change depending on the movement of the next low pressure system, set to form in the Pacific Northwest and make its way southeastward (without much choice, as Sandy’s leftovers continue to block up the Northeast/Great Lakes).   Tune in to WeatherNation to find out what happens!

Have a great Thursday. –Meteorologist Miranda Hilgers

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