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Weather Change Favors Baseball Seasons

In this article I look at details of the weather we missed in April 2020 in the more northerly minor league cities, and why a later start to the season promises better weather — assuming everyone can play in 2021.

The great experiment of the 2020 MLB season is complete.  Several changes made for this season were received favorably, and one reason for success was the meteorological advantage in the scheduling of the 60-game regular season.  By not playing the first 102 games of the 2020 schedule (as the season did not open until the end of July), baseball teams located in the eastern half of the United States missed some consistently chilly and rainy early spring weather.  This was true of the Central and Eastern divisions of the American and National Leagues, and would have affected three of the minor leagues whose seasons were entirely cancelled



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It’s a difficult time for minor league teams, with economic uncertainty following the loss of the 2020 season boosted by the lack of clarity for next year.  Though nothing is finalized it’s looking more and more as though the start of the 2021 Minor League Baseball season will be delayed by at least a month.  I find it ironic that after shifting the Arizona Fall League Season earlier in 2019 — with the weather implications described in this article — moving the regular Minor League season to later dates could now cause the two to overlap.

Big League Chill for Minor League Cities

The AAA International League, the AA Eastern League, and even the Advanced A Carolina League all lie in geographies for which the arrival of spring was slow and somewhat intermittent during 2020. Unlike MLB teams which may fortuitously escape spring chill with a series in an enclosed stadium or a well-timed West Coast road trip, the geographical homogeneity of the minor leagues presents a consistent problem when cold weather lingers into spring across the Northeast and Midwest. 

The Western division of the International League consists of Indianapolis, Louisville, and two teams (Toledo and Columbus) in Ohio. Source = https://en.wikipedia.org/

Let’s look at some specifics from the spring of 2020 for the Western division of the International League. In April of 2020, these cities all had measurable precipitation on between 10 and 15 days in the month.  Temperatures averaged between two and four degrees below normal. 

Though there were a handful of days with pleasant highs in the 70s at both Indianapolis and Columbus, another handful of days in each city only reached the 40s.  The remaining days in April reached the 50s and 60s. 

Looking at recent history, three of the past five years have had cooler than normal April weather for the eastern Midwest and Northeast, and only one of those five Aprils averaged drier than normal. 

Even more weather-challenged was the Northern division of the International League.  The three cities in New York each had between 7 and 10 April days with measurable snow among nearly twenty days with measurable precipitation of some type. 

The Northern division of the International League contains three teams in upstate New York, two in Pennsylvania, and the Rhode Island-based Pawtucket Red Sox.  Source = https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_League/

The temperature was unpleasant also. It failed to climb out of the 30s on three days in Buffalo and on four days in Syracuse.  Another dozen or so days in April only reached the 40s.  It seems that the winter coat would have been the most comfortable baseball attire for this region on the majority of days in April, 2020!  The next chart shows how variable the April temperature pattern has been for the state of New York in recent years. 

Though an “early spring” happens from time to time, even the warmest Aprils have had average temperatures below 50 degrees.  It’s no wonder that inclement weather has not been unusual in the first weeks of the baseball season! (Source = https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cag/time-series/us Climate at a Glance: Statewide Time Series)

Early Fall Weather — Best of the Season

A late start to the minor league season would then cause the 140-game season to extend through the month of September.  That shift of the schedule should be great weatherwise for the northern teams.  The average September temperature for the state of New York is sixteen degrees warmer than the average temperature in April with only an 11% increase in average precipitation amounts compared to April!   The COVID pandemic ends up providing an opportunity to lop off the April part of the schedule, and its potential for really miserable weather, and in turn to “reattach” those games to the end of the season – in what can be the nicest weather month of the year. 

This chart shows that the average temperature for the state of New York is sixteen degrees warmer than the average temperature in April. Even more noteworthy is the trend toward consistently warmer than normal early fall weather

Here’s an interesting takeaway from this September chart: it has been more than twenty years since New York state had a September ending up more than one degree colder than the long-term average!  

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