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What is a Blizzard?

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You may have heard of the term “blizzard” from your friends, those who talk about past blizzards, and those who talk about blizzards that occur every year. But what makes a blizzard a blizzard? What makes them different from winter storms? What makes a blizzard warning different from a winter storm warning?

The Term “Blizzard”

Blizzard for weather can be dated back to 1870, where it was first used in an issue of a newspaper in Iowa. The origins for the term can be dated back to 1830, where Davy Crockett used blizzard to describe a rifle blast of a blow of words according to Merriam-Webster.

What Makes a Blizzard?

For any snow storm, you need it to snow, or have snow on the ground already. Without snow, it would just be windy. If there is snow falling or on the ground, wind can blow it around, creating reduced visibilities. If the snow is heavy enough, and the winds are powerful enough, visibilities can be incredibly reduced.

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Blizzard Warning Definition via The National Weather Service

The National Weather Service defines a blizzard as: blowing or falling snow with winds of at least 35 mph with visibilities of 1/4 mile or less. There is one more important factor within this however. These conditions must last for 3 hours to gain the term “blizzard.” See the link below for criteria of other winter weather phenomenon. How much snow fall is not a apart of the criteria.

What is the Difference Between Winter Storm Warnings and Blizzard Warnings?

As discussed before, a blizzard requires prolonged conditions to require a warning. For winter storm warnings, a lot of snow is expected, but the winds and/or visibility may not be concentrated enough to warrant a blizzard. They may meet the criteria for 1 hour, but that is not a blizzard. Snow totals are often emphasized for winter storms, unlike blizzards.

Breaking it Down

To conclude, a blizzard is a 3-hour event that contains visibility of 1/4 mile or less, and falling or blowing snow. So when the next winter system appears, don’t jump to it being a blizzard quite yet, because you may have temporary reduced conditions, not proper blizzard conditions.


-CWS Lance Huffman-

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