Riots and Rain

(Photo: Sean MacEntee)

May Day has already brought some rioting to San Francisco, and as Dashiell Bennett‘s Atlantic Wire piece points out, New York is bracing for the same:

Tensions are likely to be pretty high, especially in New York City, [where] some leading organizers were reportedly visited at home by New York police and FBI agents yesterday who interviewed them about their plans. (The high temperatures and 80% chance of rain won’t help either.)

It’s unclear to me from that last sentence what the weather forecast “won’t help” — the demonstrators or the police? — but Bennett is right to point out a relationship between rain and rioting. What’s the relationship? The more of the former, the less of the latter. From a Times column we wrote several years back, called “The Price of Climate Change“:

It turns out that rainfall often has a surprisingly strong effect on violence. In a paper on the economic aftermath of the hundreds of riots in American cities during the 1960’s, William Collins and Robert Margo used rainfall as a variable to compare the cities where riots took place with cities where riots probably would have taken place had it not rained. Few things can dampen a rioter’s spirit more than a soaking rain, they learned. After two days of rioting in Miami in the summer of 1968 were finally quelled by rain, they write, the Dade County sheriff joked to The New York Times that he had ordered his off-duty officers to pray for more rain.

Today’s weather forecast in New York calls for a warm, rainy day. Read more here on the broader relationship between weather/climate and civil unrest.


My wife and I decided to try the paleolithic diet for a month in honor of May Day.


So what you're saying is... most rioters are just fair weather fans?

Paul Troon

Riots are less likely in the rain for the same reason you splash water on your face to wake up. It is harder to maintain a group think herd mentality when wet. Also, another argument for the use of water canons.

gerry lydon

So people don't like going out when it's raining! You really are maverick geniuses aren't ye?

David Loftus

I think this report may be trying to counteract the claim that water fluoridation is making people more docile hence less driven to riot. That's a claim widely held by conspiracy theorists here in Ireland. The rain explanation seems a lot more plausible however, it never stops raining here !

Phil McElhinney

There is evidence that rain put a stop to the rioting which took place in London and other parts of England in August 2011.
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