Snow and ice storms have huge economic impact, so plowing is crucial
In February, when Washington practically shut down for four days because of unprecedented, back-to-back snowstorms, taxpayers paid for approximately $400 million worth of work that more than 230,000 sidelined federal employees did not do, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. In addition to the costs of a non-functioning government, the region’s private-sector economy also took a hit, with hotels and restaurants reporting cancelled reservations, and stores sitting empty with shoppers stuck at home.
Although figures for the total economic effect of this year’s storm are not yet available, a study of Washington’s last record-breaking snowstorm in January 1996 offers insight: In that month, sales of nondurable goods fell $152 million and rebounded by only $85 million the next month, according to the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University. So, the February sales did not compensate for lost revenue in January. Durable goods, such as refrigerators and cars, dropped by $42 million in January but increased by $177 million in February, compensating for January losses. “When you close down a community because the highways are closed due to snow and ice, economic activity slows almost to a standstill,” says Richard Hanneman, president of the Alexandria, Va.-based Salt Institute, which has released two studies of the economic effects of snow and ice over the past several years.
This year’s blizzards in Washington are just one example of the extreme economic impact of snow and ice control. Every winter in communities across the country, snow and ice derail local economies for hours, days or sometimes longer. However, with budgets in crisis in almost every state and community, many snow and ice control programs are in danger of losing funding. “States and counties are under incredible budgetary pressure at this time, and nearly every county and municipality is searching for projects and programs to cut,” says Greg Cohen, CEO of the Washington-based American Highway Users Alliance (AHUA), which released on March 30 the latest study on the economic impact of snow and ice. “Unfortunately, many politicians do not think [through] the impact of cutting snow and ice control programs fully because when we aren’t able to get to work or to shop, we end up further reducing tax revenue to these states and counties.”
For city and county department heads responsible for clearing roads and bridges, understanding the economic effects of such storms can go a long way in helping them get the funding and equipment to do the job well.
Uncovering dollars and cents
AHUA’s newly released study about the economic impact of snow and ice storms revealed staggering results. For instance, a one-day shutdown because of snow and ice in New York costs $700 million; in Illinois, $400 million; in Ohio, $300 million; and in Virginia, $260 million.
The study analyzed the impact on 16 states and two Canadian provinces of a snowstorm that would make roads impassable for one business day.
Read the entire story from American City and County, our sister publication.