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How Tampa Bay holiday sales could get a boost from the weather

Last year’s hurricane season left people with less money to spend for the holidays. But this year is a different story.
Macy's is one of the department stores at the Shops at Wiregrass in Wesley Chapel. The National Retail Federation said climate patterns can have an impact on retail sales during the holiday season.
Macy's is one of the department stores at the Shops at Wiregrass in Wesley Chapel. The National Retail Federation said climate patterns can have an impact on retail sales during the holiday season. [ Times (2008) ]
Published Nov. 16
Updated Nov. 16

The forecast is in — for both the holiday shopping season and the weather.

National holiday sales could break records this year, according to estimates from the National Retail Federation. There’s several reasons why the federation anticipates more spending this year: average household wealth is rising and stores are pushing consumers to start shopping earlier due to supply chain issues.

One other possible factor? La Niña.

Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predict a high chance of La Niña, for the second year in a row, a phenomenon when the jet stream moves north, bringing a warmer and drier climate to the southern U.S. and cooler temperatures up north.

The retail federation said this kind of climate pattern typically correlates with stronger retail sales. While it isn’t the only driver, it could help tip the scales for a record year. Experts predict shoppers will spend between $843.4 billion and $859 billion in the 2021 holiday shopping season, 10.5 percent more than last year.

Related: Will hurricane season end with a whimper? Watch La Niña, scientists warn.

Weather trends are favorable for retailers nationally this time of year, said Evan Gold, executive vice president of Planalytics, a statistics firm measuring weather and its effect on shopping.

But Florida and Tampa Bay are anomalies, Gold said. Not for better or worse — just different.

Businesses perform best when there’s mild weather, said Justin Greider, head of Florida retail for the commercial real estate firm JLL. The Sunshine State has the obvious advantage of sunshine and warmer temperatures throughout the year.

“Here in Florida, the larger risk to businesses isn’t through the holiday season,” Greider said. “It’s hurricane season.”

After Hurricane Eta made landfall north of Tampa Bay last year, Gold said locals had less additional income to spend during the holiday season. Because a storm like Eta hasn’t hit the region this year — though it’s still possible — people have more to spend on gifts.

Local retailers shouldn’t assume a “double dip” La Niña, a term NOAA uses to describe a consecutive year of the weather phenomenon, to predict how consumers will spend this holiday season, Gold said. Weather patterns hardly ever repeat.

Related: Could Tampa Bay holiday traveling be affected by flight delays and cancellations? Here's what to know.

Tampa Bay forecasts for November predict normal temperatures and less rain, National Weather Service meteorologist Jennifer Hubbard said. But it will be colder this month compared to last November, which was much warmer than average.

What drives a shopper to buy a sweater depends on the market and the time of year, Gold said. A cold front similar to last weekend’s lows of 53 degrees in Tampa is one example of a weather event that would entice Tampa Bay locals to shop for fleece.

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“The definition of cold is different in Tampa Bay than Green Bay,” Gold said.

But supply chain shortages could put a damper on things.

“A lot of retailers are talking about the fact that they’re not certain how much inventory they’re going to get and when they’re going to get it,” Gold said. “So they’re encouraging customers to shop as early as they can. So the weather happening right now is going to be a lot more important.”

December, on the other hand, is expected to be warmer than last year, Gold said. Demand for outdoor products like bicycles, sports drinks and fishing gear is expected to be up between 2 and 4 percent from 2020, according to Planalytics data. People are also more likely to spend on items less driven by the weather, such as electronic devices.

A cyclist endures a rain storm earlier this month while riding south on the Pinellas Trail in Palm Harbor as a cold front passes through the Tampa Bay area.
A cyclist endures a rain storm earlier this month while riding south on the Pinellas Trail in Palm Harbor as a cold front passes through the Tampa Bay area. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

“Weather is one of, if not the largest external drivers of demand right now,” Gold said.

It doesn’t only affect what people buy and how much, but also where they shop. And this year, in-person shopping is set to make a comeback.

Consumers are ready to head out for holiday shopping after concerns over the coronavirus kept more people at home last year, according to a JLL report. About 23 percent more shoppers in the U.S. plan to go to a mall and about 21 percent plan to go to an outdoor shopping center, JLL found.

Related: Tampa Bay retailers outpacing the nation in COVID recovery, report says

Florida may not see as big of a rebound due to the state’s more open policies throughout the pandemic, Greider from JLL said. The state has already seen in-store traffic nearly return to pre-pandemic levels.

But tourists coming from out of state could make an impact, Greider said. People who travel for the first time in 12 or 18 months to Florida are more likely to spend more on vacation.

“That really has a compounding positive effect on retail sales here in Florida,” Greider said.

How the weather turns out could determine how big the effect could be.

The weather in November and December matters much more for businesses than other times of the year, given the impact of the holiday shopping season on retailers’ bottom line. So far, forecasts of a drier climate are expected to boost apparel store traffic 10 percent in November compared to last year, Planalytics data found.

But shoppers, be warned: Chances of finding a good deal on a sweater are less than 50 percent.