Weather Woes

Sarah O’Connell

Al Roker, the weatherman on the Today Show for the past 40 years, was once quoted as saying, “I don’t make plans, because life is short and unpredictable – much like the weather.” While that might work for Al, it’s not a good general principle for enterprises that depend on the weather to venture plan-less. 

    I suppose we’re lucky that in the north country our weather mainly involves water – either too much of it, or not enough of it. Too much water: record snowfalls, high river and lake levels, road and field flooding, event cancellations, etc. Too little water: low river and lake levels, drought conditions for our crops, event cancellations, and so on. As we smugly say when we’re shoveling snow, sloshing through rain or mowing our dusty, dried-out lawns – at least we don’t get hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, earthquakes or landslides. 

    When weather presents a major economic or physical impact, that’s when the state and federal governments (e.g. U.S. Small Business Administration) may step in with disaster relief loan programs. But for smaller vacillations, business owners, particularly weather-dependent ones, need to develop a backup plan, whether a snow day, an indoor-related activity or off-season events that will bring in other revenue. 

    For example, a couple of years ago a major bass fishing tournaments on the St. Lawrence was impacted by higher water levels, but this ended up being popular with the pro fishermen who enjoyed the access into new areas. These events bring millions of dollars into the area as participants and their families and fans patronize motels, restaurants, gas stations, etc. 

    With snow conditions also unpredictable, businesses that depend on skiing and snowmobiling have had to come up with alternate ways to stay afloat, as it were. Snow Ridge in Turin has established a year-round schedule of events from music festivals to trivia nights to dirt bike races. 

    We Northern New Yorkers are resilient. We’re going to find a way to cope with whatever nature throws at us. A case in point is the business confidence survey released by the 1000 Islands International Tourism Council looking at 2019 where even higher water levels were reported than 2017. It asked local businesses along the lake and river how they felt about the season and their future outlook. In the survey, “73 percent…claimed to be either satisfied, pleased or very pleased with the business they received.” This was more than in the 2017 survey where 63 percent replied similarly. Why, when the water was even higher than two years ago, did business owners feel better? Because many businesses were able to adapt by raising docks or adding docks and pushing better marketing which offset concerns of potential visitors. The “normal” weather of 2018 didn’t hurt either, as tourists left very enthusiastic about their experience and eager to return in 2019 in spite of the high water. 

    As I write, the annual Snowtown USA event is kicking off in Watertown. Newscaster Walter Cronkite was the first to bestow that title on Watertown after the Blizzard of ’77 left the north country reeling under 220 inches of snow in 5 days. The festival, begun in the early ‘80’s featured ice skating, ice sculptures and other outdoor activities. Ironically, the festival melted away in the late 90’s because of poor weather. It was resurrected in 2013 by incorporating indoor activities like the Snowtown Film Festival, bowling tournaments, snow-related crafts at the library, pub crawls, etc. When the weather does cooperate, there are many outdoor events planned as well. 

    And by the way, in November 2014, Al Roker beat the unofficial world record for an uninterrupted live weather report of 33 hours held by a Norwegian weather broadcaster by setting an official Guinness World Record, reporting for 34 hours. 

    The New York Small Business Development Center at JCC offers free, individual, confidential counseling to new or existing business owners in Jefferson and Lewis counties. For more information, contact 315-782-9262, sbdc@sunyjefferson.edu. St. Lawrence County residents can contact their SBDC at SUNY Canton, 315-386-7312, sbdc@canton.edu.