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A look at foot traffic during the biggest weather moments of 2016

What do sports bars and cyclones have in common?

Written by Sarah Spagnolo on Dec 17, 2016 - Read time: 5 min - Read Later

“Oh, the weather outside is frightful!"

penguin slipping and falling

credit: Giphy

This year, the U.S. experienced more than its fair share of extreme weather events. From Winter Storm Jonas to Hurricane Matthew, it seems like weather was perpetually on our TVs and phones taunting us whenever possible.

As a location intelligence company, we have the tools to uncover the nuances of how people move through the world. We wanted to understand how extreme weather events impact foot-traffic patterns and get a sense for the types of venues that people are more likely to visit when the weather is — shall we say — not cooperating. To do this, we analyzed visit data during this year's major U.S. weather moments (from floods to heatwaves) as selected by The Weather Channel, to uncover trends and see how foot-traffic differed compared to equivalent days in the same season.

Who wins when a storm comes to town? In short, alcohol. Let's break it down.

Winter Storm Jonas:

The year kicked off with one of the largest snowstorms in recent U.S. history, known as Jonas. From January 22–23, the blizzard pummeled the mid-Atlantic region up through the Northeast, dumping more than three feet of snow in some places. So how did icy roads and whiteout conditions affect foot traffic?

There was a 40% drop in foot-traffic overall, but for those brave enough to literally weather-the-storm, alcohol seemed to be the major motivator. People were 27% more likely to visit liquor stores, 21% more likely to visit wine shops, and 14% more likely to visit bars.

People were 12% less likely pull up to drive-thru windows and visit fast food restaurants than usual. More specifically, people were 11% less likely to visit Arby's, 21% less likely to visit a Sonic Drive-In, and 24% less likely to visit Chick-fil-A, than usual. Our data shows that people weren't driving around running errands, and if they did venture out, it was to a destination or sit-down restaurant.

dog walking in snow

Flooding in Houston:

On April 17th and 18th, heavy rainfall in Houston (up to 15 inches in some parts of the city) caused much of the city to come to a standstill. Some businesses closed up shop, schools cancelled classes, and many service roads were shut down, however this didn't stop Houstonians from visiting churches or Chinese restaurants (people were 10% more likely to visit both categories than usual).

The extreme rain did however give people an excuse to take a cheat day, as Houstonians were 10% less likely to hit the gym and other fitness centers.

flooded Houston, TX


Arizona Heatwave:

In mid-June, much of Arizona experienced an extreme heatwave with the mercury reaching as high as 120 degrees fahrenheit. The oppressive heat caused a 15% drop in foot-traffic overall, with people opting to stay indoors.

For those willing to venture out into the sweltering sun, cool, dark movie theaters were a top choice. Arizonans were 43% more likely to visit movie theaters (people were 41% more likely than usual to visit AMC theaters specifically) and 23% less likely to visit parks compared to other days in the summer season. The heatwave also took a bite out of sandwich shops as Arizonans were 12% less likely to visit than usual. Picnics took a hit.

children playing in fountain

Northeast Heatwave:

In mid-August, New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts experienced their fair share of unseasonably high temperatures, with heat indexes reaching up to 113 degrees fahrenheit, resulting in an increased likelihood for people in the Northeast to visit pools (29%), as well as ice cream (20%) and froyo shops (12%). They were also 17% more likely to visit Dim-Sum and Tex-Mex restaurants. Fun fact: Eating spicy food like Tex-Mex when it's hot outside actually helps you cool down more quickly than eating cold food on a hot day.

Theme parks took a hit as people were 16% less likely to visit than usual with Luna Park at Coney Island taking a notable hit (people were 18% less likely to visit).

snowman Foursquare Swarm sticker

Slushy sticker. Credit: Foursquare Swarm

Hurricane Matthew:

In October, a category 5 hurricane tore across the Western Atlantic, hitting Haiti, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and the Southeastern United States. As with most major weather events, we people stocking up on supplies at food and hardware stores, but the pursuit of alcohol seemed to once again drive consumers out of their homes. People were 18% more likely to visit gay bars and 10% more likely to hit up sports bars during the tropical cyclone. Other winners included wing joints and Thai restaurants, both of which were 10% more likely to be visited than usual.

Many theme parks, which the Southeast is famous for, were forced to close their gates, resulting in a dip in foot-traffic. Overall, people were 35% less likely to visit theme parks and resorts than usual, with the Universal Orlando Resort taking the biggest hit.

saving flood victims

Credit: The Weather Channel

The takeaway? Rain, sunshine and even some of the most extreme weather conditions can't keep Americans away from cocktails, churches and Chinese food.

Stay safe and happy in 2017, all.

In love and good cheer,
Your friends at Foursquare


To understand the impact of extreme weather conditions on foot-traffic patterns, Foursquare looked at visit data from its two consumer apps, Foursquare City Guide and Foursquare Swarm, during the biggest weather moments in the U.S. as determined by The Weather Channel. These patterns were compared to foot-traffic data from comparable dates from the same season, in order to mitigate the impact of seasonality.

It's important to note that this index does not indicate lift or drop in foot traffic (since severe weather usually results in a drop in foot traffic). The index represents the likelihood of app users who visited a particular category or chain relative to the amount of foot traffic typically seen during that time period (ie. how likely are people to visit a category or chain during an extreme weather event versus a more seasonally appropriate day). Foursquare data is always anonymized and aggregated.


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