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Snowstorms cost big bucks, group says

By Dick Uliano, CNN
  • February blizzards cost states hundreds of millions of dollars, group says
  • Customers stayed home; hourly workers lost wages, American Highway Users Alliance says
  • New York state suffered biggest hit -- projected $700 million daily in lost retail sales and wages
  • Communities have "got to prepare for the worst," alliance chief says

Washington (CNN) -- "Snowmaggedon" wasn't cheap.

The blizzards that battered the Northeast and mid-Atlantic in February likely cost states hundreds of millions of dollars, according to a new report from the American Highway Users Alliance.

The alliance is a nonprofit group that, among other things, urges state and local governments to set aside more money in their annual budgets for snow removal.

The snowstorms had a significant economic impact felt most sharply by businesses -- whose customers stayed home -- and among hourly workers who lost significant wages, the report concluded.

Both the federal and state governments lost tax revenue as a consequence of the lost wages.

"Every day that our roads are closed we're losing more in our economy than we're spending ... cleaning it up," said Greg Cohen, the alliance's president and CEO.

The report analyzed likely losses resulting from a major winter storm in 16 states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.

New York suffered the biggest economic hit, losing a projected $700 million daily in retail sales and wages. Illinois lost $400 million, while Pennsylvania lost another $370 million. The smallest hit came in sparsely populated Utah, which lost an estimated $66 million.

Lost wages of hourly workers account for about two-thirds of storm-related economic losses, according to the group.

Restaurants in the nation's capital were particularly hard hit by February's blizzards, according to the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington.

"A little snow may be a beautiful thing, but a lot of snow is disastrous," said Lynn Breaux, the group's president.

Breaux highlighted six Washington-area restaurants as an example, noting that February's blizzards cost them about $400,000. Workers at the restaurants lost a combined $60,000 in hourly wages, she said.

The economic losses from a severe winter storm can have a major ripple effect, Cohen noted.

"Those folks who didn't get to work get less money in their paycheck" and "have less money to go spend," he said.

A lot of communities weren't fully prepared for this year's "real tough snowstorms all around the country," Cohen said.

He said cities and towns must be ready with ample budgets for snow and ice removal to limit economic damage from crippling storms.

"They've got to prepare for the worst," he said.

CNN's Paul Courson and Alan Silverleib contributed to this report.