Want a Weather Forecast? Ask Wall Street

Want the most accurate weather forecast money can buy? You might want to make friends with someone like Corey Lefkof.

Lefkof is a meteorologist, but you won't find the 41-year-old answering phones at the National Weather Service or flashing a toothy grin as the weatherman on your local TV news.

Lefkof runs with a different crowd, the sort that risks millions of dollars on the kinds of predictions Lefkof makes every day.

He works for a bank.

"It's a much more stressful environment than anything I've ever been involved with," he said, "but it's also taught me a lot about risk-reward management."

Lefkof is a Houston-based meteorologist at Deutsche Bank's commodity trading business. By 6 a.m. most mornings, Lefkof has reviewed the latest overnight weather models, drawing from reports by private forecasting companies, the U.S. government and his employer's own satellite subscription service.

He estimates that about a dozen or so of his fellow meteorologists do the same work at other big banks -- JPMorgan Chase is currently advertising on Internet job boards for a "supporting meteorologist" to assist its chief meteorologist -- while others work at hedge funds.

Still other financial firms and funds rely on private weather consulting services, and some have tried both: Goldman Sachs and Barclay's Capital both hired their own meteorologists before turning to outside providers, industry sources say.

Exactly why is Wall Street so obsessed with weather?

Lefkof and others will tell you that weather predictions aren't just useful for planning your vacation or your choice of jacket -- they drive the global economy. Under the radar as they may be, Wall Street's weather men are as crucial as any analysts because of the sheer size of the money being wielded -- in the trillions, by some estimates -- in weather-linked investments, especially commodities.

Why commodities? Because things like crop yields and energy demand can depend heavily on the weather. Think of the recent cold snap that gave orange growers anxiety in Florida, the floods that soaked Iowa corn fields in 2008 or the record low temperatures driving up heating bills in Maine last month.

"If we know it's going to be cold in large demand centers of the Northeast, Midatlantic, Ohio Valley, Midwest," Lefkof explained, "a lot of our investors might speculate and buy natural gas futures."

Hot and Cold Bets

Commodities aren't the only way to make weather plays. In 1999, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange established weather products -- investing instruments based entirely on weather predictions, including temperature, hurricanes, snowfall and frost.

Such instruments, often known as weather derivatives, are about more than just making a bet on the rise or fall of the mercury. Businesses ranging from utilities to snow mobile manufacturers can use weather investments to hedge against climate conditions that they know could cost them money, said Felix Carabello, director of Alternative Investment Products at the CME.

"Before these products were available," he said, "the only thing you could do is hope for the best."

Insiders say that when it comes to long-range weather predictions, watching the weather markets may be better than any Farmer's Almanac.

"The weather market, to a large extent, called the cold winter we've been having," said Nick Ernst, the director of weather markets at the brokerage firm Evolution Markets Inc.

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