Heavy snowfall expected over the weekend could be the "tipping point" for an economy teetering on the edge of a triple-dip recession, a leading economist warned today.
The snowstorm, predicted to last 40 hours and produce 12 inches of snow in some areas, will be especially unwelcome for a retail sector reeling from disappointing December sales , as it sees key Saturday trading impacted by extreme weather.
"With the economy in a fragile state, even relatively limited disruption from snow and freezing conditions could very well be enough to tip the balance towards modest GDP contraction rather than modest growth in the first quarter of this year," warned Howard Archer, chief economist at forecasting house IHS Global Insight.
He added: "It would not take much in the way of adverse developments to result in GDP contraction in the first quarter and a triple dip -assuming that GDP did dip in the fourth quarter of 2013.
"Extended or repeated disruption to economic activity from snow could easily tip the balance towards further modest contraction in the first quarter of 2013 and the unwelcome achievement of a “triple dip” recession."
Douglas McWilliams, executive chairman of the Centre for Economics and Business Research, said the impact on individual retailers would be the most pronounced effect.
"On the whole if people do not spend on something one week they will buy it the next, but with retailers already operating on the edge, one weekend of snow could be the straw that breaks the camel's back."
In December 2010, adverse weather was estimated to cost the economy £1bn a day as flights were cancelled and shoppers struggled to make it to the high street.
Retail expert Matt Piner warned the weekend's snowfall could bring an early end to increased footfall from January sales.
He added that while a single bout of bad weather was unlikely to hit overall trade, that it could become "more problematic" if it continues throughout the month, recalling the "couple of months written off from a retail point of view" two years ago.
And though retailers are girding themselves for a hit from the weekend's weather, they will be counting themselves lucky the snow did not strike during the Christmas season, according to the British Retail Consortium.
"Retailers are under real pressure and customers are very cautious about spending and what we would like of course is no additional deterrent to spending," said a spokesman for the trade body.
"But If we had a choice it's better for it to be now rather than in December."