When a significant snowstorm hits, many people are quick to call it a blizzard. But is it? What defines a blizzard?
For a snowstorm to be classified as a blizzard, the storm must be accompanied by high winds resulting in very low visibility. While heavy snowfalls and severe cold often accompany blizzards, they are not required. Sometimes strong winds pick up snow that has already fallen, creating a ground blizzard.
According to the National Weather Service, a blizzard occurs when “snow and/or blowing snow reduces visibility to 1/4 mile or less for 3 hours or longer with sustained winds of 35 mph or greater or frequent gusts to 35 mph or greater. There is no temperature requirement that must be met to achieve blizzard conditions.”
When these conditions are expected, the National Weather Service will issue a “Blizzard Warning.” When these conditions are not expected to occur simultaneously, but one or two of these conditions are expected, a “Winter Storm Warning” or “Heavy Snow Warning” may be issued.
Blizzards are most likely to occur in areas with few trees or other obstructions to reduce wind and blowing snow. Blizzard conditions often develop on the northwest side of a storm system. This is because the difference between the lower pressure in the storm and the higher pressure to the west creates a tight pressure gradient, which results in high winds.
Where did the term blizzard come from?
In the 1870s, an Iowa newspaper used the word “blizzard” to describe a snowstorm. Previously, the term blizzard referred to a cannon shot or a volley of musket fire. By the 1880s, the use of the word blizzard was used by many across the United States and in England.
Are blizzards dangerous?
Blizzards can create life-threatening conditions due to “whiteout” conditions and drifting snow. During a blizzard, it is easy too because disoriented. Additionally, the strong winds and cold temperatures accompanying blizzards can combine to create another danger.