Blizzard: Causes, Effects and Interesting Facts


A blizzard is an extreme snowstorm followed by a very strong and constant wind which last three hours or more. Difference between snowstorms and blizzards is in the power of the wind. The speed of the wind that can cause a blizzard is at least 35 mph (56 km/h). The result of it is wind blowing and drifting snow which causes decreasing of visibility to 0.25m (400 m). It doesn’t take a lot of time to escalate from snowstorm, or even normal snowing to a blizzard. Blizzards usually bring seriously danger low temperatures, strong winds, ice, freezing rain, and slush.

Causes of a Blizzard

The three most important things necessary to form a blizzard are a cold air, moisture, and a warm rising air. Cold air, air that is below freezing is necessary for snowing. Sometimes blizzards are created by strong winds picking up snow that already had fallen. The temperature must be cold in the clouds and in the ground to form a snowflake. If the air on the ground is not cold enough, the snow will melt which can cause rain or freezing rain. Humidity or moisture in the air is a water vapor.

Wind blowing across the ocean or a large lake is a very good source of water vapor. Lakes and oceans affect blizzards with winds moving over the water, while water evaporates from the surface, vaporing the air. On the other hand, cold air cannot hold a lot of water vapor. Warm, rising air is important for forming clouds.

Blizzard can form only if the warm air rises over the cold air. That can happen in two circumstances. The wind brings a cold air to the Equator from the poles and bringing warm air to poles. When warm air and cold air are brought together, a front is formed and rainfall happens. Those are the main reasons why blizzards are happening and what it takes for a blizzard.

Effects of Blizzards

Blizzards can be a very dangerous for a number of reasons. Some of the blizzard winds can be as powerful and some can be even more powerful than hurricanes. Blizzards can last up to five days with endless snowing and wind blowing. Some of them can cause completely whiteout, and that happens when a lot of falling snow reduces all the visibility. That can be a big problem in the area with a frequent traffic.

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For people, it is highly recommendable to stay in homes. Being out in a blizzard can be a very unpleasant experience which can even be fatal. Spending time in a blizzard, unprotected, or unprepared can lead to a freezing to death, hypothermia and frostbites. Any of these conditions require medical intervention. The best way to prevent these problems is to stay locked up in the house.

How to Survive a Blizzard?

If there is no possible way of escaping from blizzard, there are few very important advice which can be decisive in surviving the blizzard. To avoid hypothermia during a blizzard staying hydrated is vital. Having a bottle of water can make a difference in extreme circumstances. Body temperature needs to stay as high as possible. Keeping blood flowing by moving around is recommendable.

People usually think eating snow can be as helpful as a bottle of water, but that is a trap. Eating cold snow reduce body temperature which can cause hypothermia. If it’s necessary, building snow cave is a very good thing to do, especially if there is no help on a way. Small snow caves or snow shelters are very helpful because it prevents direct exposure to a snow and blocks the wind.

Due to it serious conditions, during the blizzard, it is not recommendable to even be in the car. Traveling in a vehicle is a dangerous because of low visibility. The best way to prevent car accident during a blizzard is not to use it. If it is necessary, preparation is a key to survive a blizzard in a car. The vehicle needs to be properly equipped with winter gear, and a car should have food and water just in case of any unexpected problem.

Interesting Facts About Blizzards

Fact 1. Blizzard can shut down the whole city, sometimes even for days. That means that there are no transportation, schools, companies cannot be open during extreme weather conditions. People can be locked in their own homes for days.

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Fact 2. Strong winds and snow often destroy cables and wires, so people could lose electric power during the blizzard. That means that people can’t use computers, phones, light, electrical appliances which can cause further problems.

Fact 3. Some of the blizzards are so powerful that can cause big problems in the cities even after the blizzard. Some cities were closed for days after blizzard because of a huge amount of snow has been accumulating on the ground. Snow-clearing can be a stuck for days just to enable traffic and to make it work normally.

Fact 4. National weather services or simply forecast can issue a blizzard warning or a blizzard watch when there is a potential for a blizzards or snowstorm. It is important during warnings or watches to prepare for an emergency and follow all the steps to be as safer as possible.

Fact 5. Blizzard watch was issued 12 to 24 hours before the actual blizzard. Blizzard watch can be downgraded to a winter storm warning, or upgraded to a blizzard warning.

Fact 6. Winter storm warning is a statement which means that there is a high possibility that winter storm can happen in the next 36 hours. Blizzard warning is a statement issued when there is a strong wind blowing for 3 hours or more.

Fact 7. Blizzard can also be formed after snowfall when winds causing whiteouts.

Fact 8. The first blizzard ever to be declared was in 1977, it was declared by Federal Emergency in New York and Ohio.

Fact 9. It is not advised to walk by car or foot during blizzard conditions as it increases the chance of hypothermia.

Fact 10. Even if you must travel by car during a blizzard, make sure that you have an emergency aid kit in case your car breaks down or get stuck in snow.

Biggest Blizzards in the History

There are many serious and devastating blizzards through history. The deadliest blizzard in a history happened in Iran, in 1972. More than 4000 people died, while snow completely covered more than 200 villages. This blizzard lasted almost a week, dropping 26feet (8 meters) of snow. Wisconsin-size area was completely covered in a snow.

Through the history of United States, there are more than few seriously devastating blizzards. One of the worst blizzards happened in 1888, it is also known as the Great Blizzard of 1888, or a Great White Hurricane. Almost the whole East Coast was paralyzed, from the Chesapeake Bay to Maine, also, some parts of Atlantic province of Canada was struck by this blizzard. Snowfalls of 20-60 inches (50-150 cm) fell all over the East Coast. It lasts only 3 days, but the damage was approximately 25 million dollars in 1888, which is equal to 670 million dollars in 2017.

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The recent ones are the Great Blizzard of 1978, devastating blizzard that hit the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes. It lasts for 5 days, with approximately 20 inches of snow. That is the biggest blizzard in Ohio history, resulting with 51 people died, while more than 5000 members of Ohio National guard were called for rescuing the people. Blizzard was described as a nuclear attack. The whole town was completely shut for 2 days.

In 1993 happened The Storm of the Century, or The Great Blizzard of 1993, the blizzard that was stretched from Canada to Honduras. This blizzard was one of the largest and the most spread in the history, affecting at least 26 states, and almost whole eastern Canada. It lasted 3 days with 40 inches of snow. The damage was more than 2 billion dollars.

The most recent one happened in January, in 2016 in the United States. Blizzard produced 3 ft (90 cm) of snow. It lasted for 9 days, leaving more than 3 billion dollars damages. In this blizzard, there are at least 55 fatalities. One of the worst blizzards in US history left a lot of damages leaving 631.000 people in power outages.

Bottom line

A Blizzard is a serious snowstorm with strong winds with speed at least 35 mph, lasting three or more hours. Three important factors are necessary for forming a blizzard- a cold air, moisture, and a warm rising air. Sometimes blizzards can be created by strong winds picking up snow that already had fallen. They can be very dangerous and it is important to follow instructions from National Weather Services when there is a possibility of a blizzard.

Photo by: StockSnap

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