This year’s crazy weather is freezing the economy

Gnomes aren't the only things freezing this winter. (Jeff Roberson / AP)

Every year since the end of the recession, the U.S. economy has faced a new headwind: Europe, the debt ceiling battle and last year’s spending cuts and tax hikes.

The newest headwind? Snow. The extraordinarily cold weather this winter is hitting a range of industries and holding down economic growth.

Economists at Goldman Sachs have tried to figure out exactly what’s been going on, writing up the findings in a recent report. They've found the cold, snowy weather to be a factor in slowing down housing growth, hiring and retail sales. Goldman estimates that the weather subtracted 0.2 percentage points of economic growth during the fourth quarter of 2013 and 0.5 percentage points of economic growth in the first quarter of this year.

Goldman expects the economy to add 130,000 jobs in February, which would be a disappointing figure, following the paltry 113,300 jobs added in January. The number would be closer to 190,000 jobs without the extreme weather, according to the report.

Goldman made the calculations first by looking at how unusual the weather’s been this year. The government and outside economists usually adjust data to reflect seasonal variations, but Goldman’s point is that this year is out of the ordinary even once you make those adjustments.

Of the 52 high-impact snowstorms over the pat 50 years, Goldman points out, five have occurred this winter. The following chart shows how we’ve had an unusual high level of cold weather and snow days.

The next chart shows the impact of the weather on Goldman’s Current Activity Indicator, which is a proprietary index that measures economic activity. As you can see, it hits construction hardest, followed by hiring, housing starts, business conditions and consumer confidence.

Put bluntly, you’re not going to want to do construction work in a snowstorm; nor are you as likely to go for a job interview or buy a home.

The good news is that, unlike some of the previous headwinds, this time the economy should bounce back as the weather normalizes. Goldman expects the economy to regain all lost growth in the spring.

Zachary A. Goldfarb is policy editor at The Washington Post.



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