All of a sudden, much of the country seems to have turned into Arizona, with a hot, dry summer coming on the heels of a remarkably mild winter. Here are five ways that months of odd weather have affected—and will continue to affect—costs around the house, at the supermarket, in restaurants, and beyond.
“Moderate to extreme drought” conditions have hit 55% of the Lower 48 states, and more than 1,000 counties across the country were declared disaster areas last week due to the excessively dry weather. The conditions present potentially disastrous effects on crops, especially soy and corn. “We’re moving from a crisis to a horror story,” Purdue University agronomist Tony Vyn told Reuters. “I see an increasing number of fields that will produce zero grain.” The Washington Post reported that it’s been more than 50 years since a drought has affected corn this severely, and because of the diminished supply, the price of a bushel of corn has increased by more than 50% over the past two months. Corn is used to produce many grocery staples (cereal, soda, beef via livestock feed), and the trickle-down (or trickle-up) effect is now “threatening to drive up the cost of food.” All kinds of food: Analysts say that beef prices are likely to rise 4% to 6%, for instance.
Cheaper Heating Bills
With record high temperatures in many parts of the country, the cost of heating your home may be the last thing you’re thinking about. But this past year’s mild winter, which probably seems like a distant memory now, should have been less of a financial burden than the typical winter. As demand for natural gas dipped, prices dipped, and according to one estimate, the average consumer spent $643 on natural gas to heat his or her home, down from the 2009 winter, for instance, when the average was closer to $900. In northern climates where heating takes a bigger chunk out of the home budget, residents saved much more money thanks to what they didn’t need to spend on heat. In theory, cheaper heating costs mean that the average homeowner had a little more money in the savings account after the winter had ended. Which will come in handy thanks to …
Costlier Electricity Bills
Lower natural gas prices make it cheaper for utilities to produce electricity. So the average homeowner’s electric bill should be on the decline lately. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. The Associated Press reports that electricity rates are forecast to increase slightly this summer, even as natural gas prices are 43% cheaper than the summer of 2011. How could this be? Part of the explanation is that electricity rates are set by regulators, and utilities lock in natural gas prices years in advance, so consumers may not see the results of price decreases on the open market for years. The costs of delivering electricity have been rising steeply, meanwhile, and analysts note that “the drop in natural gas prices is keeping electric rates from rising faster than they otherwise would have.” Meanwhile, high temperatures around the country have caused residents to turn the A/C on more often so far this summer, also obviously resulting in higher electricity bills. But forecasts indicate that, overall, this summer isn’t expected to be as hot as the past few summers, so there may be some relief in sight.
Astonishingly Cheap Lobster Prices
Unseasonably warm weather in the spring and early summer along the coast of New England has caused a boom in lobster catches in Maine. As the Wall Street Journal noted, prices at some docks have dropped as low as $1.25 a pound, 70% below the norm for this time of year. Though the WSJ says that the “Maine lobsters that currently are in season can’t be shipped long distances due to their soft shells,” consumers and diners are benefiting from cheaper prices in many parts of New England. According to the Boston Globe, sales are up by 50% at Boston lobster stores thanks to $5.99-per-pound prices, and at seafood restaurants, a hot-boiled lobster entrée that normally runs $30 might be currently selling for $15.95.
Cheaper Lawn Care Bills
Local reports in places such as Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Columbia, Missouri, indicate that drought conditions have meant that homeowners, golf courses, and parks require little or no mowing. In some cases, lawn care services have shifted their focus from mowing to removing plants and bushes that have died due to the hot, dry weather. So while there might be less need to mow the lawn, there’s still some landscaping to do given the weather. And there’s a good chance your water bill is higher than usual at this time of year.
Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.
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