Economic impact will ‘likely be in the billions,’ meteorologist warns

A winter bomb cyclone replete with heavy snowfall, sharp temperature drops, and high winds will come with significant costs, and the timing could not be worse as millions of Americans hit the road for holiday travel.

The economic impact is “going to likely be in the billions because we’re going to be talking about all of those travel cancellations and delays, and think about all the impact it’s going to be, especially to that last mile delivery of Christmas packages,” Jonathan Porter, chief meteorologist at AccuWeather, told Yahoo Finance (video above).

More than 100 million Americans across 37 states are under winter storm and wind chill alerts as the country braces for the “life-threatening” cold snap on Friday. The storm has already arrived in many states including Illinois and South Dakota and is bearing down on other parts of the country. Temperatures in Cheyenne, Wyoming, for instance, plunged 43 degrees in a matter of 30 minutes on Wednesday, Porter stated.

Extreme cold temperatures are expected across much of the United States on Friday. (Image: AccuWeather)

Extreme cold temperatures are expected across much of the United States on Friday. (Image: AccuWeather)

He explained that the blast of cold air, which originated in Siberia and traveled over Canada, has been expected for two weeks and that companies have been alerted of weather conditions that could impact business operations.

“There has been advance notice,” Porter said. “The weather information has been there. Now, we’ll see how companies and various types of governments react to it.”

A man clears his driveway of snow from an overnight storm in Provo, Utah on December 13, 2022. (Photo by GEORGE FREY/AFP via Getty Images)

A man clears his driveway of snow from an overnight storm in Provo, Utah on December 13, 2022. (Photo by GEORGE FREY/AFP via Getty Images)

Two major areas of risk

The once-in-a-generation storm is shaping up to be a “nightmare” for the travel industry.

For air travel, snow isn’t the only issue grounding planes as winds and heavy rain bombard airports.

“We’ve been forecasting the risk for over 5,000 flight delays and cancellations each day over the coming days,” Porter said, adding that “it’s not just one part of the country. These are big hubs — Chicago, Detroit, and over the East Coast.”

A total of 6,454 flights within, into, and out of the U.S. were canceled or delayed as of 2:00 p.m. ET on Thursday, according to FlightAware. Most of the disruptions occurred at the Chicago O’Hare and Denver airports.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - DECEMBER 22: A traveler waits for a flight at O'Hare International Airport on December 22, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. A winter weather system bringing snow, high winds, and sub-zero temperatures has wreaked havoc on holiday travel during one of the busiest days of the year for airlines. As of 8:00 AM, more than 500 flights out of Chicago had been canceled.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

A traveler waits for a flight at O’Hare International Airport on December 22, 2022, in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Although travel remains a primary concern, the storm could further disrupt economic activity if it affects the power grid, as was the case in early 2021 when a historic cold spell sent Texas operators and millions of residents reeling.

“The other thing we’re monitoring very closely is the status of the Texas power grid and the risk for power outages there — always a concern when we’re talking about air temperatures in Dallas in the single digits,” Porter said.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott reassured Texans on Wednesday that the grid would be able to withstand the coming storm.

AccuWeather’s Porter also pointed out that this year’s winter cyclone won’t be as prolonged as the storm that hit in 2021 — some good news that could lessen the cost of the damages.

“It’s going to get cold in a lot of places and especially in the southern part of the country [but] start to rebound as we head back Christmas Day and the time period after Christmas,” he said.

Still, Porter cautioned, “these are some of the most significant temperature drops that people may see in their lifetime.”

Grace is an editor for Yahoo Finance.

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