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Winter Storms Cost US Economy Billions Annually

By By Alexa Lewis, Staff Writer
February 07, 2015, 4:27:21 AM EST

Severe winter weather that slugs across much of the United States during winter months sways the flow of money - how much is spent, lost and even how much is gained.

The 2014 Economic Report of the President cited weather-related incidents as causing turbulence in the U.S. economy. However, how much is snow really to blame?

“Severe winter weather caused 15 percent of all insured auto, home and business catastrophe losses in the United States in 2014,” Dr. Robert Hartwig, president of the Insurance Information Institute, said in a press release.


Slippery roads and low visibility are related to more frequent accidents and injury. High winds during blizzards can cause trees to fall on cars and buildings. During heavy snowstorms or months of snow and ice accumulation, roofs can exceed their load capacity and collapse, Hartwig said. If ice seals off gutters, water can become backed up and damage the home’s interior, he added.

Many cities and states have to budget money to keep roads clear and lay salt during snowstorms. New York City spent $130.7 million in 2014 to clear snow, according to New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Airlines cancel flights during fierce blizzards or winter storms, costing all parties involved. It costs an airline about $6,000 to cancel a flight, according to masFlight. However, passengers also spend additional money as they accommodate their travel plans.

Other businesses lose sales amid severe winter weather - the days when most people prefer to stay indoors. Auto dealers, for example, see a significant lull in sales between December and February.

“Any service provider who isn’t providing emergency services is going to see sales dip,” Senior Research Analyst Rosemary Radich said.

In some cases, diminished snowfall patterns have greatly impacted local economies that rely on winter tourism, according to a National Resources Defense Council press release. Restaurants and bars in these areas have also taken a hit as the number of winter tourists dwindles.

Overall losses from winter-related disasters totaled $3.7 billion in 2014, according to a press release from the Insurance Information Institute. Comprehensive insurance coverage can save many owners from spending money on repairs, but $1.4 billion in losses in 2014 were uninsured.


Losses in 2014 were caused not only from snowstorms but also from prolonged cold in areas that were generally unprepared to cope with severe conditions, Hartwig said. In the South, where structures are not insulated for colder weather, pipe damages were common.

Hartwig recommends that if it is safe, people should keep their gutters clear and remove excess snow and ice from roofs.

Who Benefits From Cold Weather?

Private snow-plow contractors and electrical companies thrive from cities’ demand. In 2011, New York City spend $11 million for private snow removal services, according to Stringer. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2013 there were over 100,000 jobs involving maintaining and plowing roads.

While many businesses see sales drop or are forced to close during storms, some needs-based retails see a boost in sales. Stores selling staple products including food and non-perishable items skyrocket during snowstorms, Radich said. Grocery stores and other supply stores continue to see increased sales even after storms when people may still be out of power, she added.

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After a long winter comes to end, restaurants, bars and other businesses may see their sales spike as people are eager to get out of the house. These restaurants may not have seen as stark of an increase around spring had winter temperatures been temperate, Radich said.

How do Online Sales, Companies Who Use Social Media Promotions Fare?

Businesses that use social media or websites for promotions or online sales may see an increase in sales during winter storms, unless the power goes out.

Radich said when severe weather causes power outages, local businesses relying on social media won’t have a means of getting their message out there if people aren’t able to charge their devices.

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