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Winter Weather Preparedness

Energy | Forecasting | Weather Events |

Winter Weather Preparedness

Winter is the coldest season of the year, taking place in the Northern Hemisphere from the winter solstice (the year’s shortest day), December 21 or 22, to March 20 or 21, and in the Southern Hemisphere from June 21 or 22 to September 22 or 23. Only locations in middle and high latitudes experience the cold temperatures of winter as locations close to the equator remain consistently warm all year.

The season of winter is associated with hibernation and dormancy as with the cold temperatures comes the death of some plants and stalled growth in others. Hibernating animals retire to their dens and other locations typically underground while others, like insects, die. Even humans tend to remain indoors for longer periods of time and change their socializing and purchasing habits to reflect that.

Besides cold temperatures, in the continental United States, it is common to experience heavy snow, ice accumulation, freezing temperatures, and wind chill.

 

How Severe Can Winter Get?

It is important to understand the varying types of winter weather and their potential effects on humans, businesses, and infrastructure. Winter storms are often called the “deceptive killers” since many deaths can be attributed to indirect causes of adverse weather (National Weather Service). This can be seen when snowy or icy roads cause more wrecks leading to serious injury or death. Simply being exposed to cold temperatures (like being exposed to extreme heat) can have detrimental effects. The severity of these weather events affects people’s habits and behaviors which in turn affect retailers. Infrastructure is also vulnerable to the effects of wintery weather which are of concern to government leaders and energy utility companies.

 

Cold Temperatures

Exposure to cold can be severe. For example, extremely low temperatures can cause frostbite or hypothermia and become life-threatening. Different areas of the continental United States consider extreme cold differently. In the North, where cold temperatures are more prevalent, extreme cold is considered temperatures well below zero. However, in the South to be considered extreme, temperatures just need to be near freezing. Besides cold temperatures’ effect on humans, freezing temperatures severe damage to fruit crops and other vegetation, and pipes may freeze and burst in buildings that do not have enough insulation from the cold.

Cold temperatures may not seem like a huge deal to most – stay inside and you don’t have to worry about them, right? But to businesses such as retailers, low temperatures can have a significant impact on demand.

To some businesses, cold temperatures can be detrimental. “People are hunkered down in their homes and not ’out and about,” Paul Walsh, a business weather analyst, and meteorologist told CNBC. “If it happens for an extended period, it can have a direct impact on the ebb and flow of economic activity. It impacts the entire economy.” (CNBC)

However, other businesses experience what is called the cold weather effect. “The cold weather effect is the phenomenon by which businesses see an increase in profits during periods of cold weather,” said Max Benz, founder, and CEO of BankingGeek. “While the exact cause of this boost is not fully understood, there are several theories that have been put forward to explain it.” (business.com)

The theories of why the cold weather effect occurs make sense. More time indoors means more time to potentially shop on online retailers, who are open 24/7. Additionally, the weather brought on by cold temperatures can lead to supply chain delays thus increasing prices. Surprisingly, a study also found that people can get used to the winter cold. A 2022 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco found that the “sensitivity of retail sales to precipitation, snow, and cold weather declines with historical experience.” This means shopping and spending can increase during cold weather events as shoppers become more accustomed to wintry weather. (business.com)

Whether your business is hurt or helped by cold weather, it is clear accurate weather data is key to maximizing profits. In fact, weather forecasting has become a multibillion-dollar business as companies seek short- and long-term weather data to form marketing plans, advertising campaigns, digital marketing strategies, and inventory management systems. (business.com)

 

Snow and Ice

Heavy snow can immobilize a region by making transportation dangerous leading to stranding people at home or work, holding up logistics, and worse, making it difficult for emergency responders from getting where they need to be. Heavy amounts of snow can damage buildings and cause failures in the electrical grid. The cost of snow preparation (think salting roads) and post-snowfall (removal, repairing damages, and the loss of business) can be significant for businesses and communities.

Similarly, ice can be as debilitating as snow as it can weigh down trees, and electrical wires and create slick roads. Ice storms can even occur which are caused by prolonged periods of freezing rain. Freezing rain occurs if the warm layer in the atmosphere is deep and there is a shallow layer of below-freezing air at the surface. Some of the most disastrous winter weather storms are due primarily to freezing rain. (National Weather Service). To learn more about the detrimental effects of ice, read our blog post: Ice and Frost and Their Impacts to Business.

The impacts of snow and ice affect both the private and public sectors. As noted above snow and ice can hinder transportation and detrimentally affect emergency responders. State and City Department of Transportation leaders, as well as emergency management agencies, need to have the fastest, most accurate weather data to see severe weather coming, appropriately plan where and when to send emergency response resources, and confidently communicate the potential danger and appropriate response steps to the public.

A clear example of this is what is referred to as the I-95 meltdown. In early January of 2022, A 40-mile stretch of the I-95 — one of the busiest travel corridors in the United States — came to a standstill overnight after a fast-falling snowstorm led to jackknifed tractor-trailers and hundreds of other accidents. Some people abandoned their cars while the remaining stranded drivers were freed after 24 hours.

“We were prepared for the storm that was predicted — a few inches of snow — but instead, Mother Nature sent more than a foot of snow to the Fredericksburg area,” Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia said at a news conference on Tuesday afternoon (The NY Times).

Agencies can only plan for what has been forecasted. If government officials are handed the wrong insight or forecast, huge failures in public transportation and safety are bound to follow.

Likewise, poor weather insights can lead to disastrous failures on the part of businesses. An unfortunate example of this is the Texas Freeze of 2021. February 2021 brought some of the coldest temperatures to Texas for 30 years. The freezing weather resulted in at least 21 deaths reported across Texas, Louisiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Missouri. 100 million people were affected as snow covered over 70% of the US. The low temperatures prompted a surge in power usage in Texas, that resulted in blackouts as the energy grid failed.

Weather insight is extremely important for energy providers because the weather can affect the energy grid in multiple ways. First, energy utilities have to properly plan for energy generation to ensure they are supplying enough electricity to their consumers. Wintery weather can make energy generation more difficult or even impossible. For example, if the utility uses solar energy, snowfall can lessen irradiance thus preventing solar farms from generating the power they need. Secondly, winter weather such as ice and snow can damage the power grid infrastructure by weighing down powerlines and tree limbs that may fall and damage other parts of the electrical grid. Energy providers must have accurate insight into weather events so they can plan for other sources of energy as well as confidently prepare line restoration resources to be sent to the areas that need them most at the right time. Without good weather data, line restoration crews may be sent out to locations that are still experiencing severe weather or on the other hand, severely delayed because decision-makers think the storm is still ongoing.

 

Prepare with Better Weather Insight

Severe winter weather is inevitable – especially at higher altitude levels. But with proper weather forecasting insight, towns, businesses, and individuals can prepare properly to lessen the negative impacts. Utility companies can better estimate energy demand so that no one is left in the dark, or worse, the freezing cold. Community and state government leaders can ensure roads are salted and schools are properly delayed or closed. And even businesses can greatly benefit by being cognizant of potential employee and customer safety concerns and ensuring essential supplies are properly stocked. All of these planning situations rely on faster more accurate forecasts to provide organization leaders with the confidence to make crucial decisions. If you’d like to learn how Climavision can help you and your organization better prepare for winter weather, contact us.