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Here’s how bad winter weather is hurting the economy

A man clears a sidewalk in Brooklyn on Friday after a storm that left up to 8 inches of snow in New York.
Getty Images
A man clears a sidewalk in Brooklyn on Friday after a storm that left up to 8 inches of snow in New York.

Caught a case of the bad weather blues? If so, you aren't alone. Severe winter weather is rearing its ugly head across the country and chilling the U.S. economy.

So far this month, four of six major economic reports have cited the harsh winter as putting the damper on output and sales. Three of the four reports blaming the weather came in worse than expected.

(Read more: Is winter weather really burying the economy?)

Here's a look at weather references in recent reports.

January ISM manufacturing

This report disappointed when it was released Monday, registering at 51.3 versus economists expectations of 56.0. January marked a second straight month of slowing growth after strong manufacturing in the fourth quarter.

A number of comments from the panel pointed to adverse weather conditions as a negative factor impacting their businesses in January, while others reflected optimism and saw increasing volumes in the early stages of 2014.

Take a look at what some of the respondents had to say:

  • Fabricated Metal Products: Poor weather impacted outbound and inbound shipments.
  • Petroleum & Coal Products: Good finish to 2013 but slow start to 2014, mostly attributed to weather.
  • Plastics & Rubber Products: Experienced many late deliveries during the past week resulting from truck lines shut down by weather.

January auto sales

Car sales also fell short of expectations last month. Autos were a bright spot for the economy in 2013, with car and light truck sales hitting a whopping 15.6 million. January was off to a slow start, though, as sales dipped 3 percent.

Ford, General Motors and Toyota Motor noted bitter weather crimping results. Here's what each company had to say:

  • Ford: Fleet sales were off 14 percent in January, as winter weather hampered the ability to fill a portion of fleet orders.
  • General Motors: Extreme winter weather in the South, Midwest and Northeast this January further depressed GM and industry sales.
  • Toyota Motor: January was off to a solid start, but weather conditions slowed industry sales in key markets late in the month.

Chrysler was the outlier. "The bad weather only seemed to affect our competitors' stores as we have a great January with sales up 8 percent," said head of U.S. sales Reid Bigland.

January ADP employment

The ADP employment report also fell short of expectations, and it also blamed winter's impact. The private sector added 175,000 jobs last month, shy of 193,000 jobs anticipated.

"Cold and stormy winter weather continued to weigh on the job numbers," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics. "Underlying jobs growth, abstracting from the weather, remains sturdy."

January ISM non-manufacturing

The good news: The services sector, which accounts for roughly 80 percent of private sector jobs, surprised to the upside, coming in at 54.0 versus economists estimate of 53.5. The gauge of business activity rebounded after two months of slower growth, with firms adding workers at the quickest pace in more than three years.

Some of the respondents highlighted weather conditions as having affected business. Comments from the wholesale trade sector, for instance, said intense weather in several areas of the country is perceived as contributing to a slow start in what is historically a strong month.

Other evidence

Atlanta Federal Reserve President Dennis Lockhart weighed in Wednesday, saying upcoming data could be weak because of weather. His region was particularly hard hit, with freezing temperatures and a few inches of snow in his hometown last week. The dangerous conditions caused a colossal traffic jam and left thousands stranded on the city's highways.

There's no doubt the brutal winter has been the scapegoat in recent reports; however, Barclays says it remains unclear to what extent the weather affected economic activity at the start of the year.

By CNBC's Kristen Scholer. Follow her on twitter @KristenScholer

  • Patti Domm

    Patti Domm is CNBC Executive Editor, News, responsible for news coverage of the markets and economy.

  • A CNBC reporter since 1990, Bob Pisani covers Wall Street from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

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