How Much Did 'Snowzilla' Blizzard Cost The Economy? Not Much, Analysts Say

Jan 27, 2016
Originally published on February 1, 2016 6:15 pm
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Last week's blizzard set a record for snowfall along some parts of the East Coast. It shut down cities and towns from Kentucky to Long Island. It even earned the nickname Snowzilla. But it probably won't be remembered as a major economic event. NPR's Yuki Noguchi explains why.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Scott Bernhardt can make an educated guess about how much a crippling blizzard is likely to cost. He factors in historic data about retail spending, productivity and previous storms.

SCOTT BERNHARDT: New York City, for example - the basic metric up to the first three or four inches is a million dollars an inch.

NOGUCHI: Bernhardt is president of Planalytics, a group that studies the economic impact of the weather. He says the fact that last week's blizzard hit the East Coast over a weekend meant it was less disruptive and costly.

BERNHARDT: It could've been far, far worse had it hit in December, had it hit on a weekday. All of those things would've been far worse.

NOGUCHI: Bernhardt says it will take a month for cities to tally their plowing costs and longer for the insurance industry to get a sense of property damage, especially along flooded parts of the Jersey Shore. But so far, he estimates Snowzilla caused an $850 million economic loss. That only includes losses that won't be made up when the effects of the snow have cleared.

BERNHARDT: If you were unable to get on a flight on Saturday but were able to get on on Monday, we don't count that.

NOGUCHI: Cost estimates very. Moody's Analytics $3 billion estimate doesn't include infrastructure damage but includes lost productivity that won't be made up through overtime or telework. Chris Christopher is director of Consumer Economics at IHS Global Insight. He says people who work in retail and restaurants sustained the biggest losses.

CHRIS CHRISTOPHER: Hourly wages - those people won't get paid.

NOGUCHI: Or, as he puts it, no one is going to go out and order two dinners to make up for the one they didn't eat. He estimates losses will reach about $2 billion - not enough to make a dent in the nation's quarterly economic numbers. He says Snowzilla's damage doesn't compare to hurricane Sandy or even last year's polar vortex, a bitter cold streak that lasted weeks. He admits, however, that estimating weather cost is not an exact science.

CHRISTOPHER: There's a lot of guessing of what we're doing here.

NOGUCHI: For example, how many people were able to telework during and after the storm? And while stores were closed and many people stayed home, power and Internet access remained on for most households.

CHRISTOPHER: We do expect e-commerce retail sales to sort of pick up a little bit in January because of this.

NOGUCHI: Especially for winter clothes that had been sitting on store shelves because of what had been a mild winter. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.