All eyes are on the February jobs report, which is set to be released on Friday morning. But as traders seek to place their bets ahead of the key economic data point, some economists are advising that worries about the weather could all but guarantee a bullish response.
The last two nonfarm payrolls numbers have come in markedly weak, with December's 75,000 new jobs and January's 113,000 both falling well short of expectations. But the soft numbers, like many recent disappointing data points, have been blamed not on any underlying economic weakness, but rather on wicked winter weather.
If Friday's number also falls short of expectations, weather conditions could again take the blame.
The weather chatter around the jobs report is "without a doubt" creating a win-win situation, Mizuho Securities USA Chief Economist Steven Ricchiuto told CNBC.com. "That's how markets have set it up. It's all going to be seen as favorable, because markets want to be bullish. Markets like to put money to work."
Ricchiuto, who is skeptical of the whole idea that weather has been interfering, expects to see 175,000 jobs created according to the nonfarm payrolls metric, which is more than most economists are forecasting.
"175,000 is just consistent with where [jobless] claims are," the economist said. "And I'm not counting weather as an impact in anything."
In her Senate testimony Thursday, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen took a wait-and-see approach to the weather questions.
"Since my appearance before the House committee, a number of data releases have pointed to softer spending than many analysts had expected," Yellen said. "Part of that softness may reflect adverse weather conditions, but at this point it is difficult to discern how much."
Regardless of whether the weather is actually chilling the economy, or if that's just hot air, it might behoove contrarian traders to bet on an unexpectedly positive reading.
"Everyone expects it to be a poor number based on weather," said Jim Iuorio of TJM Institutional Services. "To me, it seems like when everybody's on one side of the boat, the surprise could be that it's a little bit better than people expect. And that's what I'm going to be bracing for."
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Of course, how much the jobs number actually tells us about the economy is still subject to some debate.
"The idea that we base U.S. monetary policy on a phone survey of 150,000 people is ridiculous," said Nicholas Colas, the chief market strategist at ConvergEx Group.
Still, the fact that every market participant gets to obsesses over a single report at the same time on the first Friday of every month could have its merits.
"It provides some structure and ritual for our otherwise meaningless lives," Colas said.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics is set to release the Employment Situation for February on Friday at 8:30 a.m. EST.