Fox News Weather Center

Harsh Winter Weather Confines Consumers, Employees

Adjusted for seasonal variations, U.S. retail and food sales figures dropped by 0.4 percent January from December 2013, according to the Department of Commerce Census Bureau's monthly report - 2014's severe winter weather may be a major contributing factor, according to some economists.

National Retail Federation chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said the harsh winter weather is masking economic performance due to extreme temperatures causing slowdown in retail sales, according to an NRF statement.

"Following a solid holiday sales season, it seems that many consumers decided to take a break from the stores and shopping malls this January in an attempt to avoid winter weather," NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in the statement.

Commerce department spokesman Thomas Dail said that weather can have an economic impact in several ways.

"One aspect is that we do sometimes see weather affecting household purchases of energy," Dail said, adding there may be decreases in spending elsewhere.

"Our data is seasonably adjusted," he said. We do not have (fiscal quarter one) 2014 data yet."

The commerce department will release their reports in March.

Retail sales figures are a major component of how the department calculates consumer spending statistics as part of the overall gross domestic product, Dail said.

"Retail sales are a large part of GDP," he said. "They're an important part of that."

In addition to keeping consumers indoors, severe weather also results in temporary absences from school and work for many Americans, Bureau of Labor Statistics Spokeswoman Mary Bowler said.

By monitoring recent historic weather events and combining the bureau's survey data, Bowler was able to tabulate statistics on absent workers.

"It was more or less a 50-50 of people who were absent that got paid," she said, referring to severe winter weather events in 2010.

In February 2010, approximately 5,344,000 full-time employees working in non-agricultural industries were absent because of severe winter weather. In January 2011, approximately 4,857,000 full-time employees were absent.

According to AccuWeather Meteorologist Brian Edwards, record-breaking snowfalls affected many of the major metropolitan areas in the Northeast during those months.

New York City was slammed with 36.9 inches of snow in February 2010 and 36 inches of snow in January 2011.

"For that month in New York City, it was the snowiest January on record," he said, adding that February 2010 also holds the record for most snowfall for that month.

Weather data for the city stretches as far back as 1875. Philadelphia was hit with 51.5 inches of snow in a single month in February of 2010, followed by Baltimore, which received approximately 50 inches.

Edwards said snowfall of that magnitude is extremely rare.

"When you look at the average for that month, the average for New York City is seven inches of snow," he said.

Bowler said she could not create an accurate average of how much was lost in total wages during those years because of weather-related absences, but said that when looking at the survey data, only about half of the full-time employees received pay.

"We can't effectively tabulate a total pay loss," she said, adding that some economists may try to create averages based on median incomes.