Blizzards and the Economy

Imagine drinking a hot cup of cocoa topped off with gooey marshmallows as the crackle and pop of the fire in the hearth muffles the roar of a monstrous blizzard rearing its many heads outside. A blizzard can be an amazing sight, sparking both fear and an awestruck respect for its strength and beauty in the same individual. When blizzards occur they undoubtedly have a significant economic impact on the local and regional economy, especially in cities that are under-prepared for such meteorological events. A blizzard, however, can have both a positive and negative impact on the economy.

For the city snow plow crews who work the streets clearing them of dangerous ice and accumulating snow, a blizzard can mean extra pay and the chance to earn overtime. On the other hand, the city has to pay for extra man hours, sand (especially if the current stockpile runs out), special deicing fluid and the gas to drive the snow plows during a storm that may last several days. Private companies, especially those involved in the lawn and garden care business have the ability to fix snow plows to their trucks and can make extra money by clearing parking lots and private roads.

Devastating and often fatal car accidents are another economic consequence of blizzards. Multi-car pileups can clog the interstate or side roads for hours while rescue workers and tow trucks pick up the pieces. In this situation, police officers and tow-truck drivers benefit from the extra assistance calls they receive and the increased amount of time they spend out on the road. Once again, however, the city has to pay the police officers for their extra work.
The average citizen is also at risk of loosing money from the storm (especially if his pay is commission based) if his office closes or he cannot arrive at work on time because of accidents on the roads.

The most costly impact of a blizzard is often the damage it can do to buildings and homes. An extreme blizzard can be accompanied by hurricane force winds because of the steep pressure gradient in the atmosphere. Winds of this magnitude can blow tree branches into poor lines, rip shingles off of roofs and blow trees into houses. The economic impact of a power outage is worsened by the psychological and physical impact of being without heat and light for up to a week or more sometimes. Public utilities companies spend extra sending their workers out on calls to restore electricity to homes and businesses. Homeowners may be forced to spend extra on gas to power their generators in the event of a power outage. Although rare, it is also possible that a blizzard can dump enough snow on a roof that the weight of the snow pack causes the roof to collapse.

Perhaps the most significant and unpredictable aspects of a blizzard is the potential that it creates for flooding if a significant warm-up follows a major storm. This risk of this event increases as spring time nears because it becomes more likely that a warm-up will follow a blizzard and melt the snow pack. Fargo, North Dakota and many surrounding communities nearly experienced the full brunt of this low-probability high impact event after a late spring blizzard was followed by spring warmth. Whatever way you look at it, a blizzard will have a positive and negative affect on the region.
The best thing you can do to mitigate the negative effects is to prepare beforehand by listening to your local meteorological for blizzard warning safety tips.