The busiest sales weekend of February disappeared under piles of snow. The winter storm that blanketed the East Coast on President's Day weekend 2003 shut down major cities and drove sales down nearly $422 million at stores in the Northeast during the three-day period, according to research firm ShopperTrack. Many stores and malls were closed for days, and shopping patterns altered as consumer traffic headed to home improvement centers and grocery stores for survival supplies.

But it could be worse. Wedbush Morgan softlines analyst Elizabeth Pierce says dire February sales shouldn't irreparably damage most retailers' first quarter, since February is the shortest month in the period. According to weather analysis provider Planalytics, grocery stores, convenience stores, video rental stores and home improvement centers will post the best February numbers, while department stores, mass merchants and specialty apparel chains will see the most marked drop-off in sales.