Weather and Crime


I. Introduction

II. Weather, Climate, and Season

III. Theoretical Models of the Relationship of Weather and Crime

IV. The Data

V. Conclusion

VI. Bibliography

I. Introduction

Although questions about weather and crime, climate and crime, and season and crime are each different, they share a common assumption: that weather somehow influences criminal behavior. Many of the oldest beliefs about an association between weather and human behavior were based on otherworldly causes, ranging from weather gods to the positions of heavenly bodies.Astrology, which dates back 5,000 years, is a classic example of that approach. Other explanations, from Hippocrates some 2,400 years ago to Montesquieu in 1748, have assumed that the climate of specific areas influenced the populations living in those areas—for example, that hot southern climates produced hot-blooded people and cold northern climates produced cold-blooded people. Beginning in the 1800s, criminologists from Adolphe Quetelet to Cesare Lombroso argued that climate influenced the biology of the individual, which could lead the population of a given climate toward higher rates of crime. Most of those assumptions—in fact, pretty well all of them—have been discounted by recent scientific research. However, a number of modern theories of crime provide some well-reasoned arguments as to why weather and, by extension, climate and season, should quite logically be expected to influence criminal behavior.

This research paper defines what is generally meant by weather, season, and climate. It considers some of the theories that would lead one to expect a relationship between weather and crime and concludes that the routine activities theory of crime and theories that focus on stress in social interactions offer the best explanations for the relationships seen. It then looks at the data that suggest that weather, climate, or season have an effect on crime. Finally, taking all this into consideration, it reaches some conclusions as to whether weather, climate, or season influence crime rates or crime patterns and if so, how.

II. Weather, Climate, and Season

There are actually three aspects of weather that have been studied in criminology: (1) weather itself, (2) season, and (3) climate. Weather, as defined in the Glossary of Meteorology (Glickman, 2000), is the state of the atmosphere of the earth, and the major components of that atmosphere that criminologists examine (and on which the local meteorologist reports) are temperature, humidity, precipitation, cloudiness, wind, and barometric pressure. The Glossary notes that weather commonly refers to short-term atmospheric conditions, usually thought of in terms of hours or days. Many of the modern studies of the impact of weather on crime use day-to-day changes in these weather elements as independent variables.

All natural events, including weather, occur in the dimensions of space and time. Climate is a pattern of weather characteristic of some given space, usually a large geographic area. Obviously, the weather will vary day to day and month to month both in southern Texas and in northern Minnesota. However, just as obviously, the weather in southern Texas will characteristically be hotter and drier, and the weather in northern Minnesota will be colder and wetter. A pattern of weather characteristic of a period of time, usually months, that recurs with regularity from year to year constitutes a season. No matter what one day’s weather may be, or what the climate may be, in almost all locations the weather changes during the year, being hotter during one period and cooler during another. The fact that the changing seasons affect human behavior patterns is confirmed by data on almost all human activity, including crime.

Because climate and season describe different aspects of weather, it is important to consider each of them separately when discussing the impact of weather on crime. Crime is a social behavior, and virtually every behavior in which humans engage is affected in minor or major ways by the weather that surrounds us, the change of seasons that change that weather, and the common weather patterns that define our climate. Both logic and a superficial review of crime data support the appearance of some relationship of weather to crime, and criminologists address questions about what the nature of that relationship is and how we can explain how weather either directly or indirectly brings about that relationship.

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