Some of the most beloved and talked-about sporting events of the 20th century involve nasty weather. Let’s face it – for some fans (and athletes) there’s nothing better than a mud-soaked college football game or a Major League Baseball contest in heavy wind.
While some athletes seem to thrive in other-than-ideal conditions, others are more seriously impacted. How can a sports bettor factor in the effect of an approaching storm?
Any fan who’s frozen their way through an outdoor sporting event in the winter or gotten soaked to the bone watching a soccer match during monsoon season knows weather has an impact.
Understanding Sports Weather
So how can bettors use information about the weather to their advantage? The impact of inclement weather on sports has everything to do with how wind, rain, snow, and ice affects athletic performances. Strong wind affects pitchers, quarterbacks, soccer players, tennis players – athletes of all stripes, really.
Let’s not even get into falling snow and sheets of slippery ice. When weather affects an athlete’s control during a contest, be it fog or a torrential downpour, it presents an unavoidable challenge to sports bettors.
Learning how to wager under extreme weather conditions is important for all the major sports, and because myths about the weather are so pervasive, it can even help bettors when they lay wagers on games in normal weather or under the protection of a dome.
Handicapping is all about finding an edge, and bad weather (or the lack of bad weather) can be that edge. An example of conventional weather-based sports betting wisdom is that it’s smart to bet “Under” totals in outdoor NFL games in the rain or snow. This small fact can be enough edge to turn a so-so wager into an advantageous one.
But remember; weather (like so many factors in sports) can have little or no impact, depending on the athletes involved and the game conditions. A strong wind may make a pitching duel seem obsolete, but a dominant performance from either starter can quickly wipe out that perception.
It doesn’t help that sports bettors and even the sportsbook sites themselves are already weather-obsessed. Analysts talk about the weather, casual fans talk about the weather, and even the local meteorologist will spend all week making predictions about the rain chance for the weekend’s big game. Because there is so much talk (and so many misconceptions) about how weather affects wagering, it’s a difficult tool to use as a handicapper.
Example of a Bad Weather Game
Consider the infamous Fog Bowl. Played on the very last day of 1988, the game was a divisional playoff contest between the Chicago Bears and the Philadelphia Eagles of the National Football League.
Chicago is not known for being particularly pleasant weather-wise, particularly in the dead of winter. During the second quarter of this game, a dense fog rolled into Soldier Field, prompting some players to say they couldn’t see more than five or six yards ahead.
The home-field Bears eventually squeaked out an ugly 20-12 victory, mostly on the back of stand-out linebacker Mike Singletary, a player known for thriving in bad-weather situations. Had the fog not rendered the Eagles’ best weapon (QB Randall Cunningham) useless, the game could easily have swung the other way.
The Downsides of Handicapping Via the Weather
One big danger in handicapping a game primarily based on a weather event is that weather can (and does) change. How often has a major rain storm dissipated miles before the stadium? How many times have you brought a coat with you to work, only to sweat your way through your home commute?
Another dangerous aspect of handicapping based exclusively on a game’s meteorological conditions is the simple fact that you’re handicapping based on a single aspect of a game. It is a solid rule of thumb in sports betting to avoid handicapping a contest based on any single factor, barring extreme circumstances.
It may be best to consider the impact of weather on the outcome of a game about as seriously as you’d consider the impact of a significant injury. Much like an injury, the poor field conditions will be analyzed by experienced sports bettors as well as amateurs, not to mention the guys setting the odds and both teams participating in the game.
The bottom line is this – bad weather does not normally give an edge to either side. Yes, weather affects games, usually making them look a lot cooler, but everyone involved in your bet (from the oddsmaker to the defensive coordinators of both teams) will already have thought of that and made appropriate adjustments.
Facts & Myths about Sports & Weather
- Wet conditions usually cause playing surfaces to behave differently.
- Wet and/or snowy conditions affect defense more than offense. (This demands an example – imagine a football game in torrential rain. With this much water coming down, the ability of both O and D lines to perform sweep blocks is greatly impeded. Offenses can almost always perform as well wet as they do dry, while the defense is forced into a contest of strength.)
- Very cold or very hot conditions can affect the way balls move.
- Snow and ice have a big impact on the final score of outdoor games.
- Games played under wet or rainy conditions will have less total scoring.
- Athletes hate playing in bad weather, and will perform poorly because of it.
The mythical power of snow must have something to do with our ancestors’ fear of it, because though it can make us cold, wet, and miserable, it generally doesn’t affect sports all that much.
For starters, few pro sports in the West are played under icy and/or snowy conditions. The artificial grasses and synthetically-heated fields common in today’s stadiums contribute as well, making the cold stuff little more than a pretty background shot for the camera crews.
Weather’s Biggest X-Factor: Wind
If any single weather event should be a big part of a bettor’s handicapping strategy, it is wind. Outdoor baseball, football, and soccer games all involve moving relatively-light balls across great distances, a trick that is obviously more difficult when Mother Nature is pushing the air in all different directions.
This is particularly true in the modern NFL, a league in which strong passing teams are often dominant compared to teams that power it out between the lines. Gusty winds, regardless of their direction, will kill a strong West Coast offense, which relies on multiple players’ abilities to move the ball through the air. But windy conditions will affect all types of NFL teams (and other sporting clubs) in that offenses tend to be conservative, producing a lower-scoring affair than a game without wind.
Rain makes mud, snow makes ice, and heat creates cramps, but only wind directly affects how games are played on both sides of the ball. If you must consider weather as a handicapping factor, focus on wind. No other weather event will make point spreads move or alter the tactics of coaches and players like the wind.