Extreme winter conditions are forecast for NYC now is a great time to revisit policies and practices of what happens to Broadway shows during Winter storms
UPDATED: WEDNESDAY October 24, 2018. New York City, NY 10036NYC weather forecasters have recently been getting the snow storm forecast in NYC wrong more often than they have been getting it right. Given this, the once-bitten-twice-shy Broadway League and the NYC Mayor's Office (both of which who make the final recommendations on Broadway show closures) are often slow to make a cancellation decision for all Broadway show productions, given the big financial impact to shows (and the city) and the past inaccuracy for snowfall predictions from the weather services.
Individual Broadway shows can still make their own decisions to close their show for the day, but they rarely do, given the financial impact to their own investors. House managers arm their staff with snow shovels and tons of salt and they keep the entrances to their theatre clear at all costs. Although rare, the house manager at each theatre can override any decision made by the producers of the show, the Mayor or even the Broadway League.
For most storms, Broadway shows will still be performing, but customers that have tickets for shows on this day and have problems travelling to the show, should be able to exchange their tickets if they so choose, for a performance on another day - but they need to do this ahead of the show time. Straight refunds are a different matter and each show has a different policy, depending on whether the show still plays or not. If the show does not play, everyone automatically gets a straight refund without even asking for it.
Ticket holders should call their point-of-purchase for their show. Listed below are the contacts for face value and discounted tickets (Ticket broker numbers are not listed as they are too numerous to mention)
- Telecharge at 212-239-6210
- Ticketmaster at 800-653-8000
- Roundabout Theatre 212-719-1300
- Manhattan Theatre Club 212-399-3040
Make the call to exchange your tickets now or better get your snow boots and skis out of the closet.
Broadway Shows and Winter Storms in NYC: Why The Broadway Shows Must Go OnTraditionally speaking, Broadway shows will stay open even during the worst winter snow storms, as long as the NYC public transportation systems in New York City (and the surrounding areas) are still in operation. This has been true in many recent New York storms; Broadway shows will always close if the New York City Mayor issues a storm emergency, closes all public transportation, closes the bridges and tunnels going into the city and issues a vehicle and people-ban on the streets. If the Mayor has not issued such a mass-closure announcement like this, then Broadway shows may still announce their own a mass-closure in advance of (or in place of) the Mayor's announcement, but this is rare - they normally take their lead from the Mayor's Office. Broadway shows will usually only close for the most egregious or dangerous conditions, so it takes more than just a major ice storm, crazy blizzard, or damaging hurricane to turn the lights off at the Broadway stage. For non-weather related events or problems, a rule of thumb in the Broadway industry is that the "show must go on" and individual show performances will only be cancelled if there is a power outage or flooding, where it will be dangerous for cast, crew and audience to be in the theatre. Even in major power outages, some Broadway shows still put on a performance, which was true in the North East Blackout of 2003 and for the Hurricane Sandy blackout aftermath in 2012, which both lasted for a week.
Broadway Show Cancellation Announcements And Ticket RefundsIn the extreme case where the New York City Mayor issues a weather emergency and a complete travel-ban and the Broadway League then announces a mass Broadway show closure, then all Broadway show tickets are usually automatically cancelled. In this case all tickets are automatically refunded, an automatic refund check is mailed or online purchases credited to the credit card that was used to purchase the tickets. In lesser storms, the Broadway League usually lets each individual show make their own decision to whether they will open, or not. The New York City Mayor and the NY State Governor are notorious for leaving it to the last minute to make their announcement, especially after getting it wrong in recent years. This makes it difficult for Broadway theatregoers to plan around this important information. The Broadway producers and theatre owners industry group, "The Broadway League," headed by Charlotte St. Martin, will often follow the Mayor's lead, or make their own decision earlier, to close all shows based on their own information and/or feedback from Broadway theatre owners and producers and the city. Their official decision can be found on their page: www.broadway.org. and is a good source to determine what Broadway shows will be open and which ones will be closed. Obviously, the Broadway League does not want to make Broadway patrons feel compelled to see a show if it is dangerous to travel, as legal liability issues can arise. They may err on the side of caution, striking a tricky balance between the interests of their Broadway landlord membership and the safety of the general public at large. Some Broadway theatre landlords do a great job in clearing snow outside their theatre and salting during the actual storm, while others will wait for the storm to pass before trying to get it clear. The latter theatres will often not open during the storm as their sidewalk is not clear and they will have insurance liability issues with the talent, crew and theatre audience.
If The Broadway Show Is Not Cancelled, Refunds Are Not IssuedIf the Broadway show is not cancelled, then Broadway ticket refunds will not be issued. While it may be more difficult than usual to get to the show, it is the responsibility of the Broadway show ticket holder to get to the theatre to see the show, if they do not want to lose their tickets. If they do not turn up, or do not make other arrangements for a ticket exchange, they will effectively lose the value of their tickets, as their seat will remain empty during the show performance and it cannot be re-sold by the box office to anyone else.
Getting A Ticket Exchanged In Advance Of The StormMany Broadway patrons opt to exchange their tickets for another performance after the storm has passed. This means that they don't have to guess about the storm's impact on the show, transportation, and/or parking problems. These ticket exchanges are at the discretion of the individual show, and are usually only available on the phone or from the box office in person, in advance of the actual show. Patrons leaving this decision to the last minute may find that the show may deny their request, especially if the show is still scheduled to perform. If you have purchased the extra insurance at the time of the original ticket sale from Telecharge or Ticketmaster, you can just have the whole transaction refunded, but as most do not opt for this expensive option, you are left to fend with Telecharge and Ticketmaster. Box office staff at the individual theatres are in the perfect position to help with this exchange request, but it is, after all, a request - they are not legally compelled to exchange these tickets. Telecharge.com has also begun to offer "Advance Exchanges" for tickets for the days when they know the storm will likely have the most impact on the city, but not all Broadway shows participate in this process - and the shows that do participate may not actually close on that day.
Getting "Ticket Broker" Tickets RefundedTicket brokers are not the most helpful people when a big storm approaches New York. They are the least likely to help with refunds or exchanges, as they have already made their profit from the sale and are not interested in the concerns of their clients pertaining to the weather or any potential danger in getting to the show. When all Broadway shows are completely cancelled and refunds are automatically processed for ticket holders, some ticket brokers do not automatically refund their clients' money, unless requested, which is a highly questionable practice. This is perhaps another reason to avoid ticket brokers for Broadway tickets in the first place. Mass Broadway Show Cancellation
Mass-Cancellation of All Broadway ShowsMany Broadway Shows Still Go On With A Snow-Performance In past years, even if all the Broadway show performances are officially cancelled and the snow is piling up on the streets, many Broadway shows actually perform anyway. This is because many of the actors and stage crew live in New York City and they can easily make it to the theatre for work. For ones that live outside the city, they are often asked to make arrangements to stay locally during the storm. These Broadway shows usually do not hold the original ticket holder to the contract to appear, but the shows often play to empty houses or even let people in for free (or for lottery prices), after it becomes clear that the original ticket holders are not turning up - often the show starts an hour after it was scheduled to accommodate the ever-changing weather situation.The Book of Mormon and Chicago have been known to do this in the past to the delight of the people who are still in NYC, passers-by or people looking at their official show Facebook page. Broadway Shows that are aimed at younger children, will often cancel and not hold a "snow performance", The Lion King is a good example of this. Ticket holders who do not turn up for a "snow performance" are automatically refunded the ticket sales price, if the show has officially cancelled the performance, but still goes on anyway.
Broadway Storm-Shows Can Often Be A BargainWhen Broadway is officially closed, but an individual Broadway show still chooses to run, the box office becomes a bargain-hunter's dream. The producers will be left with lots of unsold ticket inventory from the patrons who exchanged their tickets ahead of the storm, and the producers are eager to offload that now-spare ticket inventory. The TDF TKTS ticket stand willbe closed in Times Square because of the weather, so expect prices to be slashed and the best tickets in the house running at a 90% discount. Sometimes they just hand out tickets for free at the front door. When the storm hits, things can get crazy at the theatre, but this is part of what makes New York theatre so great.
Historic NYC Winter Snow Storms and Blizzards, and Their Effect on Broadway Show Performances
Winter Storm Quinn March 07, 2018
Despite the forecast of up to 18" of snow for NYC, Broadway performances on Thursday, March 8, 2018 were not cancelled and Broadway went on as normal. The actual snowfall ended up being just 8", so the city called it pretty poorly this time - the Peter and dyke syndrome will happen next time, where people will not believe the forecasters - people have long memories about these kinds of things and you cannot keep getting it wrong then expect credibility in these matters.
Winter Storm Grayson January 04, 2018
Winter storm blizzard Grayson arrived in NYC in the early hours on Thursday 01/04/18 and ran through to the same early hours on Friday 01/05/18. It was forecast to dump anywhere from 4-7 inches of snow on NYC. Although Winter Storm Grayson may have had scary meteorological names like a Bombogenesis and a Bomb Cyclone, it did not bring that much snow to NYC, just some very strong winds and freezing temps for a few days after the event passed. All NYC schools were closed and many people got a snow day off from work out of an abundance of caution, but Broadway show performances were not affected and went ahead at their normally scheduled performance times.
Winter Storm Stella - March 14, 2017
This snow storm was forecast to dump up to 2 feet of snow on NYC and it ended up being a paltry 5 inches. Broadway shows waited until the last minute to decide if the shows would be cancelled because of the poor track record that the weather forecasters have had in the past and the producers called it right this time, as it ended as being a complete non-event and the Broadway shows went ahead with very little, or no impact.
Winter Storm Niko
February 08, 2017 was forecast to dump 12 inches of the white fluffy stuff in NYC, but it barely brought in more than five inches, which also did not have any impact on Broadway show performances.
NYC Weather Forecasters Got it Very Wrong For Winter Storms Stella, Niko and Juno
The NYC weather forecasters inaccuracy is costing NYC a huge amount of money in losses each time they get the forecast wrong, which is now becoming quite common. They have got the forecast very wrong in three of the last five major snow storms in NYC, including Winter Storm Stella, Niko and Juno. This is a batting average of just 400 and is very poor for meteorologists. Despite NBC having the very expensive Doppler 4000, it is clearly providing little value in predicting the amount of precipitation that will fall. The cost to NYC in lost business for inaccurate forecasts that force NYC to close is astronomical for even just one day. The losses have been estimated at over $3 Billion in total lost revenue and productivity. Its impact to Broadway can be felt for months after the Winter event.
Winter Storm Jonas
(AKA Blizzard 16) Saturday, January 23, 2016. This blizzard was correctly forecast and became the second-largest snowstorm in New York City history. At 26.8 inches of the white fluffy stuff falling in Central Park (the official weather monitoring station) this blizzard was just shy of the record 26.9 inches set in 2006. With up to four feet of snow in drifts in NYC, most Broadway shows were still planning to be open for business on Saturday with all performances still going ahead on time until the NYC Mayor and NY State Governor issued a travel ban at 1PM on Saturday, January 23. The travel ban lasted until the following Sunday morning. This meant that the Broadway League then followed suit and issued a mass Broadway show closure statement for all shows on Saturday, January 23, 2016. Broadway shows resumed for the matinee shows on Sunday, January 24. All Broadway shows processed automatic ticket refunds for tickets for the Saturday cancellations. The producers also offered ticket exchanges for all shows on Saturday Jan 23 and Sunday Jan 24. Ticket holders had to request a ticket exchange - by contacting Telecharge or Ticketmaster over the telephone (or go to the box office) to arrange a ticket exchange. The TDF discount booth at Times Square was open both days of this winter storm, for anyone brave enough to face the pounding snow-in-the-face, but as shows closed on the Saturday, any tickets gleaned from the TKTS booth were be refunded to the poor souls who braved the blizzard and still got cancelled.
Winter Storm Chris
March 15, 2015. Despite a total of 18 inches of snow falling in 24 hours, most Broadway shows still played, but shows did offer ticket exchanges for future performances to ticket holders for that night's performances only. This was graciously applied to all people who did not turn up for the show, despite not pre-arranging ticket exchanges.
Winter Storm Juno
(AKA Snowmageddon, Snowpocalypse) January 25, 2015. The New York City Mayor, Bill De Blasio, warned New Yorkers that a historic snow storm with 3 feet of snow was heading to New York on the following day. He closed all public transportation systems, and all Broadway shows were forced to close. Fortunately, it was a Monday when most of Broadway was dark anyway, and little inconvenience was felt by Broadway patrons. De Blasio's statement sent New York City residents running to stores to stock up on food, snow shovels, and rock salt. The Mayor was erring on the side of safety; he just got it wrong this time. This was the first time that the New York City subway has ever closed for snow reasons, and ultimately a paltry 9.8 inches fell in NYC, making residents angry at the mistake in the forecasts. Boston, MA, however, was buried in up to three feet of snow.
Winter Storm Knife
(AKA Snowvember) November 13–21, 2014. This series of Winter storms dumped over 33 inches on NYC, but as the dumping was spread over a few days, NYC was able to keep ahead of the snow ploughing and there were no stoppages to the city or the Broadway show schedule during this time.
Winter Storm Double
January 26, 2011. 19 Inches of snow - All Broadway shows closed
Boxing Day Blizzard
December 26, 2010. 26 Inches of snow - Some Broadway shows closed
February 25, 2010. 21 Inches of snow - No Broadway shows were closed
New York City Blizzard
February 11, 2006. 27 Inches of snow - All Broadway shows closed
Presidents Day Blizzard
February 16, 2003. 20 inches of snow - All Broadway shows closed