San Francisco 49ers: Could Good Weather Reduce Seattle's Home-Field Advantage?

Bryan KnowlesContributor IIIJanuary 15, 2014

The last time the 49ers played in Seattle, a rainstorm delayed the game.
The last time the 49ers played in Seattle, a rainstorm delayed the game.Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

“The trouble with weather forecasting is that it's right too often for us to ignore it and wrong too often for us to rely on it.”—Patrick Young

Not to turn all amateur meteorologist on you, but it looks like Sunday’s NFC Championship Game has dodged the proverbial weather bullet.

The forecast for Sunday in Seattle predicts a cloudy day with highs in the low 50s, dropping to the low 40s as the sun sets and the game moves on into the second half.  There’s a small chance of rain—it’s Seattle, so I’m fairly sure by law there’s always a small chance of rain—but the risk seems negligible.  It's also doubtful that the winds will be inordinately swirling and blowing, predicted to stay under 10 MPH.

This is a relief to both teams.  In the Wild Card Round, San Francisco had to suffer through sub-zero weather, with the wind chill at kickoff putting the temperature at minus-10—not the coldest game in Lambeau history, but not exactly pleasant conditions to play in.  Pay no mind to Colin Kaepernick’s decision to go sleeveless in that one—those were unpleasant conditions to play in.

As for the Seahawks, they’re still trying to dry off after last week’s divisional-round game against New Orleans.  We make jokes about Seattle being rainy constantly, but the weather on Saturday, with wind gusts exceeding 20 MPH, was excessive and a direct contributing factor to the outcome of the game.

Saints kicker Shayne Graham missed two field-goal attempts that were taken by the wind and blown wide left, while both teams were much more efficient with the winds at their backs rather than playing into the teeth of it.  It may not have been visually as impressive as some of the poor weather games in NFL playoff history, but those were still pretty miserable conditions to play in.

The better weather forecast might go some of the way to dampening Seattle’s home-field advantage in this contest.  The Seahawks have a relatively unique climate profile in the NFL—they play in a colder situation than any of their West Coast brethren and face more rain than most of the moderate-climate teams in the NFL. 

Pro Football Reference did a study a few years back on the effects of climate on home-field advantage, and found evidence that differences in climate between the home and road teams have a significant effect on home-field advantage, so in addition to the pounding crowd noise and long travel times, Seattle has the weather itself supporting the Seahawks.  It’s not all of the team's advantage, certainly, but it’s a significant portion.

It’s also been something the 49ers have had to deal with the last few times they’ve traveled up to CenturyLink Field.  The game back in Week 2 was delayed 60 minutes in the first quarter due to thunderstorms, and the resulting weather meant the game was rather sloppy, all things considered. 

The game in Seattle in 2012 was rainy and cold as well.  You have to go back to 2011 to find the last time the 49ers played in Seattle in dry conditions—and, coincidentally, 2011 was the last time the 49ers won in Seattle.

Of course, probably the more relevant factor in the difference between the 2011 and 2012-13 results is replacing Tarvaris Jackson with Russell Wilson more than the rain, wind or cold. All this doesn’t mean that if the weather is dry, the 49ers are going to roll through Seattle—the Seahawks still have a great home-field advantage in dry weather as well as just being a great team in general.  It will be a nice change of pace, however, as the weather does not seem like it will play a deciding factor in this game.