The chilled and shivering populations of the Midwest, the South and the East, locked into the coldest winter in years, have almost imperceptibly placed themselves into two groups: those whose pockets are lightened by the frost and those whose pockets it fills.
For the operators of towing trucks and ski resorts, for the buyers of orange juice futures and the, sellers of sleds, and for the utility companies experiencing record wintertime demands, the plunging temperatures often translate into soaring incomes.
Coca-Cola Inc. announced last week, in the wake of the orange-killing Florida freeze, that it would temporarily hold back most of its supplies of the Minute Maid and Sno Crop brands of frozen orange juice concentrate from its distributors to prevent inventory shortages.
Financial observers have said in the last week that the freeze means that orange juice prices are bound to rise. For four straight days last week, orange juice futures traded at the highest possible prices on the commodity market.
Closer to Washington, some of the "bandit" tow-truck operators have been having a field day. These operators, who cruise large highways like the Capital Beltway or Interstate Rte. 270 in search of disabled cars, are loathed by their colleagues who follow the established procedure of waiting for police or stranded drivers to summon them to the scene.
Some established operators also hate the reputation that, they said, the "bandits" give to the whole business. Take the case reported 10 days ago to the Montgomery County Independent Towers Association:
A woman is stranded by the side of the Beltway in Montgomery County, her car knocked out of commission by the cold. Along comes a tow truck, with nothing but a phone number written on its door. You can't stay here; you'll get a ticket, the tower reportedly told her. You'll have to let me tow you.
She demurred since her own service station was nearby and she wanted to call them. The tower told her she couldn't wait to do that, so she allowed him to tow her about half a mile to another station. The bill: about $30. The receipt she was given reportedly did not identify the tow truck driver in any way.
Ralph Gates, president of the Montgomery County association, said last weeek that the average bill for such a job is $10. "They're ripping people off but there's no law, no policy, and no enforcement agency for them," explained Lt. Charles Greffen of the Maryland State Police.
Even without charging three times the normal rate, tow-truck and service station operators are handling a booming business - and paying the price in 16-hour days and numbed fingers and toes. "If you had the trucks to do the calls, business would have been quadrupled in most places [in the last two weeks]," Gates said.
For most people, Gates added, "business has probably doubled." But, added Vic Rasheed of the Greater Washington-Maryland Service Station Dealers Association, "it's a hell of a price to pay."
While wrestling with unaccustomed peak power demands during the winter months, the utility companies, like the tow-truck operators are doing very well. For the Virginia Electric Power Co., the net income before taxes for the chilly last three months of 1976 was $41.8 million, 38.5 per cent higher than the same figure for the relatively balmy last quater of 1975.
For the entire year of 1976, the company's annual net income was 7.7 per cent higher than 1975, according to a company spokesman.
For the distributors of heating oil, this winter - when temperatures have been about 23 per cent colder than normal - means a commensurate increase in the number of gallons of oil they sell.
According to a spokesman for the Washington area's Oil Heat Association, this could mean that an average detached house with normal insulation, which ordinarily uses 1,200 gallons of heating oil during the heating season, could use nearly 300 gallons more this year. Oil costs an average of 44 cents a gallon, causing an outlay of $132 extra for the 300 additional gallons.
All of this extra income is not lost on tax collectors. While local governments bemoan their extra bills for heating schools and government buildings, the Maryland state comptroller's office about 10 days ago reported an 85 per cent jump in December fuel oil tax collections compared to December, 1975. A total of $1,073,345 has flowed into state coffers in the past month in heat oil taxes alone.
In addition, Maryland sales taxes for natural gas and electricity were up 20 per cent last month compared to December, 1975.
An older, traditional heat generator is also showing a resurgence. Underneath their "firewood" sign on Georgia Avenue in Olney, David and Mary Morris have watched their business increase by about 25 per cent this season over last.
"If we'd had the wood we could have increased (sales) by 33 per cent or so," Mary Morris said, "but it's just my husband and my son doing the cutting." Even so, the Morrises said they are selling nearly two cords of wood daily and making about $100 for their efforts. At the rate, they could clear nearly $12,000 before they close shop in March. The Morrises sell a cord, which is 128 cubic feet of wood, fro $55.
The sellers of sleds are also collecting an increasing amount of money, and "most of the manufacturers have been sold out for weeks," according to a buyer at the national office of Toys R Us in Saddle Brook, N.J. "This is one of the best years we've had as long as I can remember," he said. However, he added, "the price ($5 to $25 a sled) hasn't got up."
At Hechingers, sales of sand, road salt, snow shovels and insulation "have been booming" according to company spokesman Milton Thaler. "To a lesser extent, storm doors and windows are doing well," he added. He also noted that his company has not increased prices for these items, which are in heavy demand.
Because of the boom, all 17 Washington-area stores of Hechingers were sold out of road salt just before Jimmy Carter's inaugural, but most have been restocked, Thater said.
However, despite the heavy sales on winter items. Thaler said the cold is not necessarily good for business. "These things have been booming, but when the roads are icy and there's snow we don't get the traffic count of customers) that we do on other days."
The traffic count on ski slopes, however, has not been hampered at all by the driving conditions. Richard Church, a spokesman for Bryce Mountain, 110 miles west of Washington in Virginia, said that there is a 30- to 60- that inch snow base on the mountain and that about 1,000 people are heading for the resort's three slopes on Saturdays and Sundays, most paying $11 for a lift ticket.
"We are having our best season ever," he said.