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Jun 272011

By Brett Kessler
Green Right Now

Rainy weather shuts down a park on a gray afternoon. Drought kills a patch of strawberries. Heat waves delay a construction project and force workers to start earlier in the day. All weather – even subtle changes in temperature and precipitation – has a cost. According to a new report from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., the economic impact of routine changes in weather may be as high as $485 billion in the United States.

Rainy weather (Photo: Tim O'Bryan).

It’s a staggering number – 3.4 percent of U.S. gross domestic product – and one that does not include costs associated with “extreme weather events” such as tornadoes and others natural disasters.

Climate change, the researches caution, is only expected to exacerbate the frequency of these events.

The study, drawn from 70 years of weather records from across the U.S., found certain economic sectors to be more sensitive to weather than others. Weather, unsurprisingly, affects mining and agriculture the most, impacting economic activity by fourteen and twelve percent, respectively. Retail was found to be affected by eight percent, services by only three.

“It’s clear that our economy isn’t weatherproof,” says NCAR economist Jeffrey Lazo, lead author of the study. Changes in weather influence both the supply and demand sides of many economic enterprises. They can both stimulate and halt growth – sometimes simultaneously. A snowstorm, the researchers note, may interfere with travel and boost heating costs, while at the same time attract more visitors to ski resorts. The impact of weather is complex and serves as a reminder, in this age of technology, that we are still in many ways beholden to nature.

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