Editor’s note on Jan. 17, 2024: Investigative Post published the following story on Feb. 17, 2022. Given the wintry conditions at Highmark Stadium last Sunday and the likelihood of similar challenges this coming week when the Bills host the Kansas City Chiefs, we’re republishing the story.
The last game the Buffalo Bills played at Highmark Stadium a month ago was the coldest in more than two decades. By itself, it could have made a case for putting a dome over the new stadium being discussed for the team.
But that frigid day — the low was 4 degrees, with a windchill of minus 5 — was an outlier. An Investigative Post analysis of weather conditions on game days over the past 20 years found relatively little extreme weather.
Only 15 of 157 regular season and playoff home games were played on days where the daytime highs were at or below freezing. Appreciable amounts of snow only fell on six game days.
On the other hand, few games were played on warm, sunny days. The temperature topped 70 degrees only 29 times. The mercury topped 80 degrees only seven game days, including one scorcher at 90.
More common were games played on days with daytime highs in the 40s, 50s and 60s, often with light precipitation.
In other words, the word on weather for Bills games: meh.
High temperatures for home games
Source: U.S. National Weather Service.
Not surprisingly, most Bills season ticket holders interviewed by Investigative Post for this story are cool to the idea of a dome to protect them from the elements.
“Weather contributes highly to the joy of the game, whether you’re all bundled up, or whether you’re there in your T-shirt and shorts,” said Mark McGovern, season ticket holder since 2013. “It’s part of the experience.”
But advocates for a dome argue that a covered stadium would extend the use of the venue beyond the 10 or so games the Bills would play there.
“It makes complete sense to have the dome, no matter where the stadium is. Because it does give something back to the taxpayers at least,” said Ben Siegel, co-founder of Bills in Buffalo, a group advocating for a multi-use, covered stadium, preferably in downtown.
Weather analysis findings
The Investigative Post analysis excluded preseason games and “home” games played in Toronto. Temperatures and precipitation were recorded at Buffalo Niagara International Airport, the closest weather station to the stadium that takes daily readings of conditions.
Out of the 157 regular season and playoff home games played in Orchard Park since 2002, only 15 were played in temperatures where the daytime high was at or below freezing. Two of those games were played on a day of record cold, however.
Then there was the game on Dec. 6, when the Bills faced the New England Patriots in blowing snow and cold.
Dave Russell, season ticket holder since 1996, was there.
“I couldn’t get anybody to go because everyone knew it was going to be 50-mile-an hour winds,” he said. “So I sat there for that miserable game by myself.”
Russell and other season ticket holders Investigative Post spoke with said those cold games are memorable. They aren’t all that common, though.
“Typically, your last three games of the season are pretty cold,” said John Lang, known as “Bills Elvis.”
Snow isn’t all that common, either. Two inches or more fell on only six game days, most notably the white-out at the Indianapolis Colts game in 2017.
Lang said snow is part of the “greatness of the sport.”
“I love the elements. I want snow games,” he said. “I love to see Miami or the southern teams come up here in December and I love to watch them freeze.”
The Investigative Post analysis found rain at games is more common. There was record rainfall on three game days, but almost all of the other 54 rainy days involved less than one-tenth of an inch of precipitation. Rain fell in trace amounts 14 of those instances.
Fans really don’t like a soaking rain.
“Once you get wet, it’s hard to recover from that,” said McGovern, the season ticket holder.
Warm-weather games outnumbered those played in freezing temperatures. The daytime high reached at least 60 degrees in 61 games. About the same number – 62 – were played with daytime highs in the 40s and 50s.
To sum it up: average weather conditions on game days involve a high of 54 degrees with a 60 percent chance of precipitation, often in small amounts that sometimes fall before or after games.
What season ticket holders say
Season ticket holders expressed mixed emotions about the prospect of building a domed stadium.
Some liked the idea of avoiding bad weather, but still preferred watching a game outdoors.
“As soon as you put a dome over it, you cut out those beautiful September, October days where it’s blue skies, and you look out the back of the stadium, you see all the colors of the foliage,” McGovern said.
Others said it would be unnatural.
“It’s football. It’s supposed to be played in the mud and the cold and the snow,” Lang said.
Some of the season ticket holders Investigative Post spoke with said they’ve attended games in other cities with domed or enclosed venues, including NRG stadium in Houston, Texas, and SoFi stadium in Los Angeles, California.
“It seems very sterile compared to being outside in the open air,” McGovern said.
Season ticket holders were also concerned a domed stadium would complicate tailgating before games — something Bills fans are known for.
“I don’t know if I could put my finger on exactly what it is, but it would definitely be different,” Lang said. “I get the biggest kick out of seeing these guys with no shirt on in the middle of a snowstorm.”
Do Buffalo’s weather conditions affect the outcome of games? That’s up for debate.
The team’s home record the past 20 seasons is 89 wins and 68 losses. That’s on par with home winning records across the league.
“It’s not like the open air has helped us win the Super Bowl yet,” said Tod Kniazuk, season ticket holder for about a decade.
Winter weather hasn’t hurt the Bills, however.
The team’s record when temperatures were at or below freezing was nine wins and six losses. When two or more inches of snow fell: five and one.
The case for a dome
There is another side to the argument. Weather aside, advocates for a covered stadium say a roof would generate a greater return in revenue.
“We know we’re going to get by having, number one, a stadium in Orchard Park and number two, an open-air stadium. It’s not the best investment at all,” said Ben Siegel, co-founder of Bills in Buffalo.
Siegel — and others in Buffalo — doesn’t want a new stadium just to host Bills games. He says the Bills as a sole tenant limits the opportunity to generate return for taxpayers because the stadium sits idle when the team’s not playing. And that’s about 355 days a year.
A covered venue could be used for other purposes, including concerts and other sporting events, year round. It could also host major events like NCAA basketball tournaments.
George Hasiotis, who headed a group that proposed a dome stadium on the Outer Harbor a decade ago, said: “You have no access to the revenue features that you need as a taxpayer to pay back that long-term debt.”
Said Siegel of a dome: “In the long run, it’s going to pay for itself.”
The Pegulas, however, are insisting on an open-air stadium, and Gov. Kathy Hochul has said she’s willing to support their demand.
Supporters of an open-air stadium note it would be less expensive to build. An engineering study commissioned by the state estimated that a dome would add about $300 million to construction costs.
While construction costs would be lower, so would usage, and with it, revenue. The most optimistic estimates say a dome could host up to 300 events a year, both big and small.
Even the heartiest of Bills fans might have appreciated a dome when the Bills hosted the Patriots last month in bone-chilling temperatures. But many fans will grin and bear the occasional cold game to watch football outdoors.
“We Buffalonians are tough, you know,” said Lang, a.k.a. Bills Elvis. “Bring it and throw on an extra pair of socks or get yourself a good pair of gloves.”