Operations

Batten down the hatches for more severe weather ahead

The storms that dampened restaurant traffic during Q1 were a preview of what the industry can expect through the remainder of 2024, though with more heat, wind and rain, according to forecasters.
NOAA says there's an 85% chance the 2024 hurricane season will be worse than last year's. | Photo: Shutterstock

The severe weather that restaurants blamed for a slide in traffic during the first quarter of 2024 may be a preview of what the industry can expect through the remainder of the year, according to a variety of long-term forecasts.

Shorter term, meteorologists and workplace safety regulators are warning certain areas of the country to brace for triple-digit temperatures. California officials, for instance, have alerted employers to take precautions for protecting their staffs from dangerous heat this week. Cal/OSHA, the state’s workplace watchdog, is predicting temperatures of 105 degrees in Imperial County, an area along the border with Mexico, and 106 degrees in northern locales like the city of Redding.

Similarly, the National Weather Service has issued warnings that temperatures in parts of Texas could hit 117 degrees Tuesday, and forecasters have projected that the heat in Death Valley, California, could reach 124 degrees, a new U.S. record. The advisories extend to Arizona and Nevada.

The first severe heat wave of 2024 follows a rough start to the year weather-wise, at both ends of the spectrum. As of the end of April, the year is on track to be the fifth hottest in U.S. history. Yet the month also brought 2 feet of snow to some areas of New England.

On April 26, the National Weather Service issued 48 tornado warnings to parts of Oklahoma, a single-day record. Even Alaska was walloped with a twister, its first in five decades.

Year to date, according to the weather agency, the nation has been hit with seven weather catastrophes that wreaked at least a billion dollars each time in damages. Yet hurricane season is just beginning.

Federal forecasters say this year’s season—from June 1 to Nov. 30—could bring more severe storms and hurricanes than the nation saw during the same stretch of 2023. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, said last week that there’s an 85% likelihood the weather will be extraordinarily worse. It pegged the chances of a typical season at just 10%.

Overall, NOAA expects the nation to be hit by four to seven hurricanes in the Category 3 to Category 5 range. Hurricane Katrina, the storm that devastated New Orleans in 2005, was classified as Category 5. Hurricane Sandy, the 2012 event that shut down much of the East Coast for a week, was a Category 3.

The weather service expects four to six additional hurricanes of lesser force, plus another five storms that will be severe enough to merit a name (the wind during those events has to reach 39 mph).

Turning up the heat

NOAA also expects temperatures to soar higher than they did in 2023. The agency has said there’s a 65% chance that 2024 will prove the hottest year in human history, rising from its current No. 5 ranking to outstrip last year, the current record holder.

The danger posed by excessive heat in the workplace has become a more pointed concern of workplace safety regulators at the state and local levels. Six states—California, Colorado, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon and Washington—have set obligations for employers to meet amid excessive heat. Most are directed at employees who labor outdoors, like construction and agricultural workers, and are largely commonsensical. Employers are required to make shade and cold water available, to provide breaks and to train managers to spot the symptoms of heat stroke.

Last summer, President Joseph Biden asked the U.S. Department of Labor to establish a way of alerting employers to take action amid dangerous levels of climate heat, and to ensure that businesses are following best practices for protecting employees. It said at the time that 400 workers had died on the job since 2011 from heat exposure.

Bad weather was cited by a variety of publicly owned restaurant chains as one of the reasons their traffic slumped during the first quarter of 2024. The exact forms of the inclement conditions varied greatly by region, with excessive rain and subsequent flooding dampening guest visits in New York, the Southeast, parts of Texas and other areas, while tornados wreaked havoc in central parts of the nation.

The start of the year brought more tornados than the nation has seen since 2017, with 862 counted through May, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information, a NOAA sub-agency.

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