When severe weather rolls through Fort Worth, Mike Sugg, co-owner of Big Kat Burgers, knows that likely means lost income to his food truck based in the Near Southside. 

“The cold weather has taken anywhere from one to two weeks of our sales year out of commission, which is free time with the family, but all the bills are still rolling in,” Sugg said. 

Winter events can cool off the entire city’s economic activity, according to Fort Worth’s sales tax receipts. In February 2021, sales tax decreased by about $600,000 from February 2020. That decrease can be attributed, in large part, to Winter Storm Uri, which hit Texas during the second week of February, covering the region in ice and snow. 

At least 246 people died statewide as millions of Texans were left without electricity or water, including in Fort Worth and Tarrant County.

In February 2022, which brought two more winter events to the city, sales tax income dropped by about a million dollars from January.

The city calculates its own price tag for winter storms. Fort Worth spent about $135,000 on labor costs and materials during the city’s latest February winter storm. Typically, the city spends about a fourth of similarly sized cities on clearing roads during the winter.

Fort Worth has about 1,002 lane miles of major thoroughfare roads such as Camp Bowie Boulevard and Lancaster Avenue, but transportation and public works crews don’t treat the vast majority of city roads. Instead, crews try to maintain areas that are especially difficult to navigate in the ice: 295 bridges, hills and hospitals. Calculated in terms of hills, bridges and roads treated by road crews, the city spent about $457 on each treated area during the February winter storm. 

Last year, the department spent $132,000 on two winter storms. Elsewhere around the country, municipalities are spending significantly more on treating roads.

In 2021, Oklahoma City spent about $780,500 on snow and ice removal, along with pothole repairs, related to winter weather. The city maintains 1,238 lane miles, which works out to about $630 per mile. 

The city of Kansas City, Mo., spent $2.75 million, or $430 per lane mile, for snow removal in 2019, according to reporting from KCUR

Fort Worth recently purchased a machine that will allow the city to produce its own brine solution for pre-treating the roads. Transportation and public works received the machine before the February freeze, but wasn’t able to get the machine operating in time to use ahead of the recent storms — instead relying on the Texas Department of Transportation to supply the brine. 

TxDOT also treats state and federal highways across the state.

During the past two decades, Fort Worth experienced an average of 3 inches of snowfall per year, which is less than other comparable cities. Oklahoma City receives an average of about 8 inches of snowfall every year, and Kansas City averages 17 inches a year.

Typically, the city experiences just one or two weather events a year, said Juan Cadena, operations superintendent with transportation and public works. 

“We’ve never really had a plow for snow,” Cadena said. Most cities “don’t go into plowing operations until they’re hitting 4 or 5 or 6 inches of snow (annually). We never hit 4 or 5 inches of snow.”

However, ice storms seem to be getting more severe, he said. And it’s ice storms that usually cause more problems.

Winter weather delays, but doesn’t stop economic activity

Transportation and Public Works staff fill a sand truck Dec. 14 at the city’s Southside Service Center, 4100 Columbus Trail. (Rachel Behrndt | Fort Worth Report)

The business of food trucks is especially susceptible to severe weather, Sugg said. Any weather that is below 55 degrees or above 85 degrees starts to affect business. 

“No one’s getting out for work at 6 o’clock and saying, ‘Oh, look, it’s dark and cold. Let’s go stand outside and order food in a food truck.’ They just skip right by,” Sugg said.

However, once the weather does clear up, the food truck typically sees an increase in business, Sugg said. This past weekend, after a tornado warning kept everyone inside, the food truck sold out a day earlier than expected. 

Economist Ray Perryman, founder and CEO of The Perryman Group, said icy roads typically delay rather than halt business. 

Restaurants and appointment-based businesses like hair salons would likely be among those most acutely affected by impassable roads, Perryman said. Retail businesses would likely be able to recover from the lost time fairly quickly. 

“Losses do mount up, but it is not enough to have a meaningful effect on overall economic activity,” Perryman said. “On balance, given the relatively short duration of the recent storm, I don’t think we’ll see a major dip in the overall economic indicators for the month.”

The February 2021 winter storm Uri, which caused the power grid to nearly collapse and put the state in a deep freeze,  had a much larger impact on the Texas economy, Perryman said. 

In that case, the major driver behind economic loss was power outages. The extended freezing temperatures also had a large impact on agriculture, landscaping and other sectors, Perryman said. 

The Perryman Group estimated that statewide the winter storm led to at least $56.8 billion in lost income. Another report estimates the economic impact loss at $300 billion.

Even relatively short power outages can short-circuit business. Amphibian Stage, which is just across the street from Big Kat Burger, lost power during the March 2 storm, the same day of a sold-out performance of Spaceman — which the theater was forced to cancel. 

The performance was also delayed by winter weather in February, when icy roads put rehearsals on hold. Despite those challenges, the stage was still able to welcome a guest speaker and host a community night, lit only by lanterns and ambient lighting. 

Participants gather inside the lobby of Amphibian Stage March 2 during a storm. (Courtesy Image | Amphibian Stage)

“The theater is not named Amphibian Stage because we’re adaptable. We like to think that that is sort of a coincidental third reason that that theater is named what it is,” Evan Michael Woods, marketing director for Amphibian Stage, said. “We really learned to roll with the punches and take the good from it.”

Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at rachel.behrndt@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Rachel BehrndtGovernment Accountability Reporter

Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report in collaboration with KERA. She is a recent graduate of the University of Missouri where she majored in Journalism and Political...