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Tallying the high cost of record lows

Empty hotels and lost productivity were just two side effects of the polar vortex that sent temperatures plunging to record lows across the country
Empty hotels and lost productivity were just ... 01:48

Bursting pipes drenched the Columbia Sportswear Store in Chicago Wednesday morning.

"We just had water coming down through this whole front area," said Alison Anderson, the store manager. "They were at the front of the building, by the door here, so the cold weather was definitely the reason.

It happened at the worst possible time for a store full of warm jackets for sale.

Burst pipes could not have come at a worse time for a store selling warm jackets CBS News
 The economic disruption from the cold could be felt at Chicago's Burnham Hotel, where cancellations piled up like drifting snow. Nabil Moubayed oversees the hotel.

"We have three hotels in the Chicago loop and most of them were running somewhere between 20 and 40 percent," Moubayed said.

Add lost productivity from people stranded miles from their desk to lost wages from workers told to stay home and economic growth may have lost two-tenths of a percent.

 Kristin Drake works for Planalytics which helps businesses plan for weather. 

Snow related items flew out the door at Chicago hardware stores CBS News
 "We're looking at probably a $5 billion impact," she said. "A lot of that is due to the sheer size of area that's impacted."

But cooped up consumers were actually good things like e-commerce.

And auto-repair shops were doing a bang-up business. Sales of shovels, salt and snowblowers were hot, according to Ace Hardware's Jeremy Melnick.

   "Obviously with the snow and the cold weather, things were flying out the door pretty fast," Melnick said.

But retailers are a bit concerned about the coming weeks when homeowners begin getting high energy bills. Businesses expect that could hurt sales around Presidents' Day.

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