– By Earth Networks – WeatherBug Meteorologist John Bateman
With most of the country experiencing a much milder–than-normal winter so far, there’s bound to be people, and businesses, either benefiting or reeling from the lack of cold weather. Here is a quick rundown of this season’s winners and losers.
Consumers. With temperatures running well above seasonal norms, electric and gas customers have been using less to heat their homes. In fact, gas users have been benefiting even a little more, as natural gas prices fell 13 percent during the second week of January 2012. That’s the lowest winter cost in nearly 10 years. A little more than half of American homes use gas heat, and that’s expected to give the average customer a savings of a couple hundred dollars by the end of the year.
Airlines. The lack of big winter storms and extreme cold so far has reduced delays, cancellations, and refunds from last winter. Major airports like Chicago O’Hare and New York’s JFK have seen snowfall running 20 to 50 percent less than normal this winter. The need for maintenance crews and de-icing procedures has also been much less, which saves airlines several thousand dollars per plane in de-icing solution and labor costs.
City budgets. Some of the nation’s famously snowy cities have a surplus in their winter weather budget this season. Chicago used about a half-million dollars in its December winter budget this winter, where last year by that time, it had spent around $6 million. Syracuse, N.Y., has only received about 2 feet of snow this winter, which is nearly three feet below normal. Because of this, the city has reportedly saved more than $370,000 in salt and labor compared to last year. Kansas City has seen about 5 percent of its normal snowfall this season and is reporting that it has used only 15 percent of its winter budget, which includes spending for manpower, salt, and equipment.
There are also those who are not benefiting from this break in winter’s wrath. To them, this mild and snowless winter has hit them in the pocketbook.
Winter goods services. Home improvement and hardware stores have taken a hit as sales for shovels, snow blowers, salt, and insulation are down. Winter gear retailers such as ski shops and apparel stores have also taken a hit, where deep discounts have been offered to help sell merchandise like coats, boots, and ski gear.
Ski resorts. Some ski resorts have been forced to close, or run on a much smaller scale, due to the lack of snow and cold temperatures to make snow. As of early January, Vermont was reporting about half of its ski slopes operating. Vail, Colo., ski resorts reported visitors down by 15 percent, and for the first time since the 1800s, it did not snow at all in December at Lake Tahoe.
Drug stores and health care. The relatively mild winter has not kept people confined indoors, so colds and flu are down this season. This has dropped sales of cough and cold medicine, lessened the need for doctor’s visits, and reduced the number of people receiving flu shots. In fact, Huffington Post reports that Walgreens had about a 12 percent drop in flu shots this season compared to last, along with cold and flu prescriptions being down by 1.5 percent.
Winter weather can turn on a dime, and with six to eight weeks of winter still ahead, some winners could still lose out, or some losers could turn into winners.