An economy under the weather

Snowstorms blasted the U.S. and took a bite out of the economy, too

An economy under the weather

Photograph by Kevin Lamarque/ Reuters

During the first week of the 2010 Games, Vancouver’s winter weather—or more precisely, lack of it—was a hot topic. In the end, though, the spring-like conditions proved no match for a determined army of snow-shovelling workers. But while Olympic organizers were able to temporarily wrestle Mother Nature into submission, the bright minds charged with running the giant U.S. economy weren’t nearly so lucky.

In the United States, harsh winter storms pounded the densely populated eastern seaboard in February, and are blamed for taking the steam out of the country’s economic recovery. Washington, for example, was buried under more than half a metre of snow during a blizzard dubbed “Snowmageddon,” which disrupted the entire region and was followed by an encore performance less than a week later. The storms disrupted government and air travel and caused many Americans to stay home instead of going to work or to the mall, putting a dent in everything from consumer spending to employment. “This February marked the first time in recorded history that each of the 50 states had measurable snowfall in the same day,” according to UBS, a Swiss bank. “It is therefore likely that this unusual weather played at least some role in the recent string of weaker-than-expected [U.S.] economic data”

It has been a different story north of the border—and not just in Vancouver. In Toronto, the country’s financial centre, bankers and lawyers have gone nearly the entire winter with nothing but bare concrete under their leather-soled dress shoes. Meanwhile, GDP numbers shot through the roof in the fourth quarter and talk has suddenly turned to taming the recovery, instead of stoking it. Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney will likely hike interest rates to cool any overheating, but praying for a few more snowflakes couldn’t hurt.

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