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'Polar vortex' price tag: $5 billion

Jan. 9, 2014 at 12:01 AM   |   Comments

BERWYN, Pa., Jan. 9 (UPI) -- The "polar vortex" that dealt a brutal blow to much of the United States will likely cost the nation $5 billion in lost revenue, an analysis indicates.

"We're looking at probably a $5 billion impact" that will shave 0.2 percent off the first-quarter gross domestic product, Planalytics Inc. Client Services Account Manager Kristin Drake told CBS News.

"A lot of that is due to the sheer size of area that's impacted," she said.

More than 200 million people, or nearly two-thirds of the U.S. population, were gripped by the record-setting cold, mostly in the eastern two-thirds of the country.

This led millions of people to stay home from work and school, which cut productivity and consumer spending, Planalytics Senior Vice President Evan Gold told United Press International in an email.

Four years ago, a one-two punch of blizzard-like snowstorms in February 2010 -- a historic Mid-Atlantic nor'easter Feb. 5-6 followed by a severe Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and New England snowstorm Feb. 9-10 -- cost the nation $25 billion to $30 billion, Planalytics said.

"But that one lingered," Gold told Britain's Daily Telegraph. This one, while short-lived, was "just very cold," he said.

Just the price tag of canceling about 15,000 U.S. flights due to the weather is expected to top $400 million for the airlines and be at least $1 billion for the 9 million passengers who were stranded due to canceled flights, aviation data analysis house masFlight said.

Airlines "still have to pay the crew, they still have to pay the ownership on the aircraft, and then, whatever airport they're at, they have to pay those airport expenses," masFlight Vice President Tulinda Larsen told CBS News.

"Passengers have expenses as far as lost productivity, other incidental expenses, such as hotels and meals that are not covered by the airlines," she said.

Airlines are required to pay for passengers' lodging if a delay or cancellation is airline-related, but not if it's beyond their control, such as for weather.

Utility companies provided extra heat during the deep freeze, and consumers can expect to pay the price when they get their bill, Gold told UPI.

"Heating bills won't come due for another month, so the impacts of higher heating bills won't be realized until 30 to 60 days from now for many," Gold said.

"Many consumers are likely to get 'bill shock' when it comes due," he said.

The departing large-scale cyclone left about 150 families near St. Genevieve, Mo., 65 miles south of St. Louis, snowed in with no drinking water after an underground pipe in their subdivision froze and burst, radio station KMOX, St. Louis, reported.

Making matters worse, the only road in and out of town was covered with a foot of snow, the station said.

"About seven pots of snow and ice -- I can get almost a pot of water," resident Linda Davis told the station, adding being snowed-in without water was "a little rough."

Now that the vortex is departing, temperatures in St. Genevieve are expected to be in the upper 40s to low 50s, AccuWeather said.

In Minnesota and Milwaukee, which were in negative numbers much of the week, temperatures are expected to reach the mid- to upper 30s, while Chicago will likely hit 40 Sunday, AccuWeather said.

New York is expected to be in the 50s, and places farther south along the Eastern Seaboard are expected to be even warmer.

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