By: Andrew Freedman, Mashable
With yet another winter storm marching across the U.S. Monday, this time coating large parts of the South in a thick glaze of ice, along with more frigid, record-breaking temperatures in New York and Boston, the epic winter of 2014-15 marches on.
But it isn’t just affecting our thermometers. Each day of cold and snow is adding more to a mounting national bill, according to experts who pegged the cost of the winter so far at between $1 and $5 billion.
The season is likely on track to surpass the economic toll from last year’s “polar vortex” cold snaps — especially since there have been more extreme storms this winter, and more long-lasting and severe cold than there was a year ago. Many cities, including Boston and New York, are on track to have their coldest February on record.
In Boston, which has received about six feet of snow between late January and mid-February, winter weather has placed a severe strain on the local and regional economy. Homes and businesses have been damaged by the heavy snow, while “back-to-back-to-back-to-back” snowstorms have wreaked havoc on work and school schedules.
Perhaps the only people earning more money in the Boston area now than they would be in a typical winter are orthopedic surgeons, thanks to a surge in patients who slipped and fell on ice or injured themselves while shoveling.
Many homeowners aren’t faring well against the snowy onslaught.
Over the weekend, several inches of snow followed by rain showers fell on a deep snowpack in parts of Massachusetts, bringing the total number of roof collapses from the weight of the snow to nearly least 130, according to statistics cited by Insurance Journal.
The unrelenting barrage of snowstorms from the Midwest to the Tennessee River Valley and the Northeast, along with frigid temperatures associated with some of the coldest air on record for the month of February, are costing the national economy dearly too, according to experts in weather risk management.
More expensive than polar vortex winter
Mike Manoogian, a vice president at Planalytics, which provides weather intelligence information to businesses, told Mashable the winter weather has already cost the national economy at least $5 billion, with New England’s snowbank-filled winter constituting at least 40% of that total, or about $2 billion.
Manoogian said much of the impact is coming from lost sales opportunities in the retail sector, since businesses have had to shut down frequently due to the heavy snowfall and lack of reliable transportation.
“When you think of guys who are trying to sell cars in a car lot, those are just sales that aren’t happening,” he said.
The costs are likely to rise further, Manoogian adds, with more cold weather and storminess predicted across the country during the rest of the month.
“We’re in the last week of February, but it’s still winter and we’ve got more cold and we’re expecting that number to go up,” he said of the $5 billion estimated economic toll.
According to Planalytics’ analysis, we’re in one of the snowiest winters, nationally, in at least the past five-to-10 years.
Steve Bowen, a meteorologist who works on weather impacts for the insurance company Aon-Benfield, told Mashable the insurance industry won’t have a solid grasp of the true economic toll of the winter season until all the snow and ice melts and damage assessments can be completed.
Still, “it’s very safe to say,” Bowen says, “that we are well above $1 billion” in insured losses.
The total is likely to be higher still, considering that the 10-year average economic losses from extreme winter weather in the U.S. is $3.1 billion, with an average of $1.8 billion per year year in insured losses.
The polar vortex event alone cost $1.7 billion in insured losses, Bowen said, with a total of $3 billion in insured losses last winter, and $5.5 billion in total losses.
“[It's a] fairly safe bet that we’re going to be above average, if we’re not there yet,” he said. “The total is only going to get higher.”
“Based on what we’ve seen just from snow perspective and the cold, I would not be surprised whatsoever if we do not see numbers rivaling that specific event,” Bowen added.