Freezing Weather's Effects on Oil, Orange Juice, Skiing and Good Cheer
So far, the East Coast has had a bitterly cold winter -- there's no debating that. Temperatures were below normal throughout the region between New York City and Atlanta, says Mike Pigott, meteorologist at AccuWeather, who says the extreme cold is likely to linger through February.
Global Warming Means Big Blizzards
And the cold snap would be worse if not for global warming, says Brenda Ekwurzel, a climate scientist from the Union of Concerned Scientists. In fact, she says, "Blizzards and big snowfalls are entirely consistent with global warming," because warmer air traps moisture in clouds, leading to more intense blizzards.
The impact of this year's unseasonably cold weather has been a boon for some sectors of the economy, even as it drags down others. Oil has hit $81 a barrel for the first time in two months, and Bloomberg News notes that stockpiles of heating oil have fallen for six weeks, to 44.4 million barrels -- the longest decline since April 2008. The run is fueled in part by record low temperatures in areas like International Falls, Minn. Known as "the Icebox of the Nation," the town recently hit minus 37 degrees Fahrenheit. And further south, orange-juice prices soared 90% in 2009, fueled by an unseasonably cool winter in Florida, the world's second-biggest orange grower after Brazil.
But a nasty winter doesn't mean all costs go up. Ohio officials report that road salt is cheaper and easier to find after towns got burned by shortages last year. The Dayton Daily News says Streets Department officials are saving money by using the ice-melting agent more efficiently. In the U.K., though, officials are worried about "critically low" supplies.
Coffee Earnings Rise
Of course, it wouldn't be winter without warm beverages, and shares of Starbucks (SBUX) are up more than 134% over the last year. Smaller rival Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR) is up more than 212%, thanks to the surging popularity of its Keurig single-cup coffeemakers. (I think mine is particularly awesome, and judging by the difficulty I had in finding some flavors. so do other consumers.)
Those who aren't worried about the supply of salt or the cost of heating oil are enjoying the wintry wonderland. Chris Hustad, owner of Nodak Outdoors in Bismarck, N.D., says he plans to go ice-fishing today and that his fellow enthusiasts would angle through a frozen lake "come hell or high water." And the cold doesn't bother the 6,700 people who live in the Icebox of the Nation. Rod Otterness, city manager of International Falls, says he prefers bone-chilling but calm days like Jan. 4's to windier, warmer days. (Tuesday's high temperature is predicted to reach 3 degrees Fahrenheit.)
"Everybody is driving down the street," Otterness says. "Trees are absolutely gorgeous with ice crystals. What's nice about International Falls is that we don't get that slushy stuff."