How much will this storm cost?

So what's the cost of a day like today, in terms of dollars lost because of missed deliveries, absent workers and diminished production?

The short answer is, plenty. But an accurate figure is hard to calculate, even within a city or county.

"In addition to the overtime that the employees will be getting working the storm, those employees will be diverted from their original jobs, and may need additional overtime to catch up," said Mary Ellen Balchunis, a La Salle University political scientist who studied snow costs as an aide to Mayor Wilson Goode.

"Restaurants, stores, and malls will lose revenue whether they close or not. . . . Food stores, gas stations, stores that sell shovels, snowblowers and sand, landscapers and individuals who remove snow, will make money," she said.

And, she noted, snow also can bring a political cost. In 1979, in Chicago, Jane Bryne won election as mayor partly because her predecessor failed to get snow quickly removed from the business district. People couldn't get to work, food spoiled at eateries, and companies lost large sums.

Estimates are that closing the federal government in Washington is costing $100 million a day, according to the Office of Personnel Management.

"Much of the lost productivity could be avoided if we leveraged the technology that allows us to think of work as process and not a place," said Debra Dinnocenzo, president of VirtualWorks! in Wexford, Pa., near Pittsburgh, and the author of books on telecommuting.

"Lost productivity is a bit like sleep. We can't recapture that when we lose it, either. Sleeping in on the weekends doesn't really make up for our sleep-deprived weekdays," he said. "The better solution is to prepare for and know how to maintain productivity in spite of the weather."