Metro

Four’easter turns into fake storm

Mary Madden walked back to her car with her lunch from Sullivan's on Castle Island on Thursday.
Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff
Mary Madden walked back to her car with her lunch from Sullivan's on Castle Island on Thursday.

To stand out in a winter full of storms, it helps to have a brand.

Nor’easter used to sound scary by itself, but that’s your grandpa’s storm. Now we have bomb cyclone and snowmageddon and snowpocalypse. When the bombpocalypse comes, we’ll all just cash in our 401(k)s for survival gear and gold.

The dud of a storm that dribbled through Boston on Thursday had been dubbed by the Storm Hype Industrial Complex as the Four’easter, a catchy, marketable name for the fourth nor’easter of the month. It was supposed to arrive Wednesday with up to a foot of snow. (Yes we, too, breathlessly reported worst-case scenarios.)

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But even though nary a flake fell on Wednesday, the storm had a significant economic effect: Business was down 20 to 50 percent that day at restaurants across the region, according to the Massachusetts Restaurant Association.

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“On top of the real weather, this fake weather has been a kick in the stomach,” complained Bob Luz, the group’s president and chief executive, who blamed Wednesday’s losses on “sensationalized ... wall-to-wall” storm coverage that drove people to burrow in at home, even though there was essentially no precipitation.

If Luz sounds irked, he has reason.

“I have restaurateurs yelling at me for the forecast,” he said Thursday. “Technology is partially to blame. Resilient New Englanders have lost their way. It’s become too easy for people to work from home. At the mention of a snowflake, you have employees staying home, hunkering down.”

Compounding the problem is that restaurants are unlikely to recoup money lost to a storm, fake or real. People who miss a night out at a restaurant are going to eat at home. That meal is over forever. It is different in other industries. If you put off a haircut because of snow, your hair will still be too long when the sun comes out. You’ll go spend the money.

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“People don’t schedule an extra night out at a restaurant to make up for a night they didn’t go,” said Remon Karian, who owns five restaurants in Greater Boston. “We’ll never get back that lost revenue.”

His business was down about half on Wednesday, he said. Losses at restaurants trickle down to servers and staff, many of whom work for hourly wages or depend on tips.

By lunchtime, it was looking like a lost day of business at Sullivan’s on Castle Island, even though the weather was not nearly as bad as advertised.
Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff
By lunchtime, it was looking like a lost day of business at Sullivan’s on Castle Island, even though the weather was not nearly as bad as advertised.

On Thursday morning, as weak flurries fell, Brendan Sullivan made a game-time decision to open Sullivan’s, the restaurant at Castle Island. By lunchtime, it was looking like a lost day, even though the weather was not nearly as bad as advertised.

“We have 15 employees here now and everybody’s standing around looking at each other,” he said. “It’s completely slow. Dead is probably a better word.”

For the sake of the seasonal business, Sullivan is eager for the seasons to change.

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“It’s really time to move on,” he said.

It does seem this winter is getting clingy, doesn’t it? Pretty much everyone is fed up. Reporters assigned to write yet again about the winter weather are questioning how their careers could have gone so wrong, and inserting pleas for help into their copy.

On Thursday morning, tiny, wet flakes fell on the sidewalk and melted in front of Rob Butler and Angie Walsh, who stood under an awning in Downtown Crossing, chatting about the weather and dragging on cigarettes.

“We were expecting a lot more snow today, and it’s just been pretty blustery and windy,” said Butler, 24, of Boston. “I guess we just barely missed it.”

On Wednesday night, Butler kept looking out the window, wondering when all this snow was going to arrive. He felt let down, like the forecasters had cried wolf.

“I’m very upset because all day everybody was getting ready and stuff,” he said. “It’s like, stop saying [it’s going to happen] if it’s not going to happen, because people are going out of their way and wasting their time.”

Walsh, 25, of Boston, said she was also frustrated by wall-to-wall coverage.

“They’re getting people all nervous and hyped-up and scared, like it’s going to be a big blizzard, the next nor’easter, whatever,” she said.

National Weather Service meteorologist Stephanie Dunten said drier than expected air took the sting out of the storm.

It’s uncommon for storm models to change so dramatically over such a short period of time, she said. “For something to be so drastic within 12 to 24 hours of the storm, it’s something we haven’t seen in a while.”

As always, dire forecasts drove people to the grocery store for provisions. Steph, a 53-year-old from Hyde Park, said she made two extra trips to prepare for the storm. And for what?

“I look out this morning and it was like an inch and a half or two inches with a little bit of wet on top,” she said Thursday morning as she walked through Downtown Crossing. “Ta da – fake storm.”

Many businesses ended up canceling things unnecessarily. The Quincy high-performance computer manufacturer Psychsoftpc put off appointments, shipping, and manufacturing that were supposed to take place Thursday.

“We get delays like this, especially delays that really don’t have to happen, it’s just frustrating for us and frustrating for our customers, too,” said chief executive Tim Lynch.

School superintendents bought into the hype. Boston Public Schools were closed, as were Somerville schools, and others around the region.

Like many parents, Christine Lewis, a vice president at the Waltham public relations firm InkHouse, worked from home because her 3-year-old’s preschool was closed.

As a result, every phone call became a tug-of-war.

“Once he notices I’m talking on the phone, he has to have my attention,” she said. “I try to walk away from him so that I can talk without background noise, and that’s when you have to be careful that they’re not drawing on the walls.”

For college student Marvin Stephens, 25, of Dorchester, the forecast held the promise of a day off. A promise broken.

“You know, I’m thinking to myself, these damn meteorologists and reporters screwed us all over again,” Stephens said. He was laughing, at least.

That is what we all should do. Laugh. Shrug off this stubborn winter. Appreciate that baseball is back next Thursday, and that the storm that missed us hit hard in Yankees country.

Katie Johnston of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Laney Ruckstuhl contributed to this report. Mark Arsenault can be reached at mark.arsenault@globe.com.