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Deep freeze could cost U.S. $5B

| Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, 10:09 p.m.

MINNEAPOLIS — Hunkering down at home rather than going to work, canceling thousands of flights and repairing burst pipes from the Midwest to the Southeast have a price. By one estimate, about $5 billion.

The country may be warming up from the polar vortex, but the bone-chilling cold, snow and ice that gripped much of the country — affecting about 200 million people — brought about the biggest economic disruption delivered by the weather since Superstorm Sandy in 2012, said Evan Gold, senior vice president at Planalytics, a business weather intelligence company in suburban Philadelphia.

While the impact came nowhere close to Sandy, which caused an estimated $65 billion in property damage alone, the deep freeze's impact happened from its breadth.

“There's a lot of economic activity that didn't happen,” Gold said.

Major airlines, which canceled about 20,000 flights starting Jan. 2, lost anywhere from $50 million to $100 million, said Helane Becker, an analyst with Cowen and Co. in New York.

School closures took their own toll, keeping home parents who couldn't find alternatives for their kids.

The insurance industry has yet to estimate costs, but Robert Hartwig, president of the Insurance Information Institute in New York, said insurers plan for about $1.4 billion in winter storm catastrophe losses in any given year.“We certainly know there is an epidemic of frozen and burst pipes this week,” Hartwig said.

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