Hunkering down at home rather than going to work, canceling thousands of flights and repairing burst pipes from the Midwest to the Southeast has its price. By one estimate, about $5 billion.
The country may be warming up from the polar vortex, but the bone-chilling cold, snow and ice that gripped much of the country in recent days -- affecting about 200 million people -- brought about the biggest economic disruption delivered by the weather since superstorm Sandy in 2012, said Evan Gold, senior vice president at Planalytics, a business weather intelligence company in suburban Philadelphia.
While the impact came nowhere close to Sandy, which caused an estimated $65 billion in property damage alone, the deep freeze's impact came from its breadth.
"There's a lot of economic activity that didn't happen," Gold said. "Some of that will be made up, but some of it just gets lost."
Still, Gold noted his $5-billion estimate pales in comparison with an annual gross domestic product of about $15 trillion -- working out to maybe one-seventh to one-eighth of one day's production for the entire country.
"It's a small fraction of a percent, but it's still an impact," Gold said.
Major U.S. airlines, which canceled about 20,000 flights starting last Thursday, lost anywhere from $50 million to $100 million, said Helane Becker, an analyst with Cowen and Co. in New York. JetBlue was hit especially hard because 80 percent of its flights go through New York or Boston, where the carrier shut down Monday evening into Tuesday.
School closures took a toll, keeping home parents who couldn't find alternatives for their kids, said Tony Madden, an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
The insurance industry has yet to estimate costs, but Robert Hartwig, president of the Insurance Information Institute in New York, said insurers plan for about $1.4 billion in winter storm catastrophe losses in any given year.
"We certainly know there is an epidemic of frozen and burst pipes this week," Hartwig said. Governments are meanwhile tallying costs for depleted road-salt reserves, blown overtime budgets and repairs.
Other impacts will be felt in about 30 days when high heating bills start coming due, Gold said, which will affect how much consumers can spend in February.
But somebody always benefits, he said. On-demand cable TV and restaurant delivery services gained, as did home centers and convenience stores where people went to stock up. Online retailers benefited from customers with an estimated $30 billion worth of new holiday gift cards.