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Off-the-charts weather may be net bad for economy

A Philadelphia resident clears snow near a downed tree limb Wednesday

Unrelenting harsh winter weather is likely to show up as a slight drag on economic growth in the first quarter, even if there is a spring rebound.

The number and intensity of winter storms have stalled pockets of economic activity across the country, with another system dumping freezing rain on top of snow along the East Coast on Wednesday.

Ice paralyzed Atlanta late last month, bitter cold shut Chicago schools and snowstorms in the East halted travel. Add drought conditions in the West, and economists are attempting to determine how much they should deduct from first-quarter growth simply because of the weather.

"We already saw it in auto sales," said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial. "It literally freezes the economic activity, and you don't get the activity to resume until we get a thaw."

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