Ohio to East Coast, Snow Blankets Both Economy and People

THE winter of '94 will long be remembered.

Yoshi Shigehisa, a visitor from Tokyo, will remember the Statue of Liberty as seen from the Staten Island ferry during a blizzard. ``It was very beautiful,'' he says.

Ricardo Williams, born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago, says he won't forget the winter either. ``On days like this, I'd rather be relaxing on the islands,'' he says during a 13-inch snowstorm in New York.

``It's been a horrendous winter for the whole Northeast - cold, snowy, and a lot of ice. Every couple of days we've been into that pattern,'' says Mike Wyllie, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in New York. (States run low on salt, funds, Page 10.)

The reason for the bad-weather pattern is a quirky jet-stream pattern. The river of air above North America has dipped much further to the south. The southern course has resulted in plenty of icy days in Atlanta, Dallas, and other Southern cities. The jet stream then comes back up the East Coast, forming a pocket that seems to catch every cold front brewed in the Yukon.

The arctic air has produced a January that has been six degrees below normal in New York, with more frozen precipitation than normal. Lake Superior is frozen over from shore to shore for the first time in 16 years. The colder weather has a ``chicken and egg'' impact: With snow and ice on the ground, nighttime temperatures are lower than normal, since the Earth does not absorb any heat from the sun. Thus, the storms coursing up the East Coast deliver snow and ice instead of rain, and so on.

The cold weather in the East is cooling off the economy faster than the Federal Reserve Board's interest-rate hike. Economist Brian Fabbri of Fabbri Global Economics estimates that the bad weather could reduce the first-quarter gross domestic product to 2 percent to 2.5 percent, down from the torrid 5.9 percent level in the fourth quarter of last year.

``It's probably knocked the stuffing out of construction, and there's been some real loss in retail sales,'' he explains. On Friday, the government reported that retail sales fell 0.5 percent in January, ending 10 consecutive months of sales gains.

Some of those lost sales will be made up in March, unless it remains cold and snowy. Construction activity will resume in the spring, and Mr. Fabbri predicts a rapid recovery in the second quarter. In addition, there has been a virtual run on snow shovels, de-icing salt, and parkas. Electric-utility production, as any homeowner knows, will show a healthy increase as more energy is used to keep warm.

Tony Molinaro, a spokesman for United Airlines, based in Chicago, says the flight operations in the Northeast ``have been one of the worst in many years.'' However, he points out the bad weather in the East has been countered by good weather elsewhere. Denver has been buried by snow other years and fog has hidden San Francisco, he says.

This winter, however, it is the East Coast's turn. On Friday, blizzardlike conditions shut down New York's three airports. The city declared a ``snow emergency'' and plows tried to clear the streets.

Winter is also coloring municipal budgets red. New York City has now spent more than $20 million on cleaning snow off the streets, not counting the latest storms. Only $10 million was budgeted.

Things weren't much better on Friday in the South. Washington, D.C., which had already shut down in January due to the cold, closed because of an ice storm. The state of Maryland reports it is running out of road salt. In Richmond, Va., the state Department of Transportation shut its doors. ``We've had 10 to 10 1/2 inches of snow and 2 inches of sleet, and freezing rain on top of that,'' says Jack Hodge, the department's chief engineer. ``From an ice point of view, [this winter] is probably the worst ... we've had.''

In Ohio, Jonathan Greentree, a spokesman for the Department of Transportation concedes, ``Winter dealt us a blow.'' A series of storms hit so fast that highway personnel have had trouble clearing all the roads.

Of course, the winter has also provided work - snow shoveling. Johnny Santana has spent a lot of time cleaning the ice and snow for the Grand Central Partnership in New York. He says he'll remember this winter for all the snow he's pushed around. Almost anyone in the Northeast will agree.

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