Tags: polar | vortex | US | economy

Polar Vortex Freezing Much of US Economy

Image: Polar Vortex Freezing Much of US Economy The skyline of Pittsburgh is framed by ice along the bank of the Allegheny river at sunset on Jan. 7.

Friday, 10 Jan 2014 11:30 AM

By Melissa Clyne

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The frigid weather conditions sweeping the nation — officially known as the polar vortex — are having a chilling effect on more than just the temperature.

The cost to the U.S. economy is about $5 billion, The Guardian reports.

The conditions have fanned the flames about whether global warming really exists. Nonbelievers like Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma and radio-talker Rush Limbaugh have used their platforms to rail about it being a hoax, proven by the arctic blast.

"In the middle of a hoax, they're perpetrating a hoax — but they're relying on their total dominance of the media to lie to you each and every day about climate change," Limbaugh told his listeners on Monday.

Meanwhile, the White House is hosting a Google+ Hangout to tout the reality of global warming, and President Barack Obama's science adviser, John Holdren, discussed the phenomenon in a two-minute video in which he cautioned that "no single weather episode can either prove or disprove global climate change."

An issue not in dispute is the crippling economic impact of major weather events like hurricanes and polar vortices. The current polar vortex, described by NBC's Al Roker as a polar hurricane, has affected some 200 million people.

Schools and airports shut down, people can't get to work, vacations are scrapped,1 and the cost of heating a home in bone-chilling temperatures is expensive.

Canceled flights alone, 20,000 of them, cost between $50 and $100 million, an analyst with New York's Cowen and Co. told The Guardian, noting that JetBlue has been hit especially hard because 80 percent of its flights go through New York or Boston.

Bursting and leaking pipes have been good for businesses like Roto-Rooter, but can pose a financial hardship to home and business owners. And local governments have blown overtime budgets dealing with emergency repairs.

Then there's the road salt. According to trafficsafetystore.com, municipalities don't account for a polar vortex when budgeting for snow removal and road clearance.

Car accidents increase when roads freeze over, and in places like the Midwest, where temperatures have dipped to 23 degrees below zero, the "chemical used for road clearing stopped working. Black ice creeps over the surface like a poltergeist," according to the website.

On a positive note, The Guardian said, the polar vortex has resulted in some economic gains.

"On-demand cable TV and restaurant delivery services gained, as did home centers and convenience stores where people went to stock up," The Guardian reports.

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