Even everyday weather could pack a $485 billion punch

June 22, 2011

No question about it: this has been a wild weather year so far in the United States, with record rains, droughts, wildfires and tornadoes. But a new study indicates that even routine weather events like rainstorms and cooler-than-normal days could pack a huge annual economic wallop.

Weather’s effect on all sectors of the U.S. economy may total $485 billion a year, as much as 3.4 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, according to research published in the current Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. It is the first study to apply qualitative economic analysis to estimate the U.S. economy’s weather sensitivity.

Mining and agriculture are particularly sensitive to weather influences, with routine variations taking a toll of 14 percent on mining each year — possibly because of changing demands for oil, gas and coal — and farming feeling a 12 percent impact, conceivably because temperature and precipitation affect many crops, the study said.

Other weather-sensitive U.S. sectors include manufacturing (8 percent); finance, insurance and retail (8 percent), and utilities (7 percent). By contrast, wholesale and retail trade had a weather sensitivity of 2 percent, and the service sector felt a 3 percent impact from routine weather variations. The impacts stretch across every U.S. state, researchers found.

“It’s clear that our economy isn’t weatherproof,” said the study’s lead author, Jeffrey Lazo, an economist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado.

This research could help policymakers figure out whether it makes sense to invest in enhanced forecasts and other strategies to help shield U.S. economic activity from weather impacts, NCAR said in a statement. The study did not calculate any additional costs from extreme weather events because data from these events was not available for the time period of their economic model. They also did not factor in possible impacts of climate change, which is expected to spur floods, heat waves and other severe weather events.

Photo credits: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (Spectators don rain gear during first round play at the 2011 U.S. Open golf tournament in Bethesda, Maryland, June 16, 2011.)

REUTERS/Gary Hershorn (Pedestrians in Manhattan as the sun sets on New York, as temperatures soared over 90 degrees F in a U.S. heat wave, June 8, 2011.)

One comment

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I wrote about this – without hard economic numbers — in 2004, an article that I see is still circulating the web. I lecture on it whenever I get a chance. As a meteorologist for some 30+ years, I can safely say the tools we have to make weather forecasts are so much better than when I started. The tools could be better, but we really need better weather forecasters. Bad weather forecasts and bad use of weather forecasts cost the economy dearly. Ask any resident along the Missouri River (and soon the lower Mississippi River).

Posted by ChrisOrr | Report as abusive

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