Groundhog Punxsutawney Phil "forecast" another six weeks of winter this year, which is terrible news for everyone who's sick of slogging through snow, slush, sleet, and ice. This winter has felt unusually inclement, and it turns out you're not imaging things: this winter really has been historically brutal.
Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we can draw a quantitative comparison of how often full-time workers stayed home simply because the weather outside was frightful. This chart shows the number of people, in thousands, who skipped work for weather-related reasons from November through March of a given winter, dating back to 1976 when the BLS started tracking the data:
The huge spikes are, as you'd expect, years with major blizzards. There's the Great Blizzard of 1978 (aka the Cleveland Superbomb), the Blizzard of 1996 (which dumped up to four feet of snow on parts of the U.S.), and so on.
At first glance, the winter of 2013-14 doesn't look all that bad. But we're only partway through this winter, and data for February's snow days won't be even released until next month. So for a more accurate comparison, this next chart includes days missed only in December and January for each winter.
Much different. In terms of weather-related days off, this year has been the fourth-worst in the past two decades. The tally would probably be even higher — though still not on par with those epic blizzard years — were it not for all the people who telecommuted to work amid nasty weather.
And that's having a direct impact on the unemployment rate, which is still a dispiritingly high 6.6 percent.
So there you have it: this winter has been a never-ending string of snowstorms and polar vortices — and there's still more snow on the way.
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