When you picture a blizzard, do you imagine fierce winds and heaps of snow? That’s certainly a common image. These extreme weather events can bring heavy snow, strong winds, and low visibility. Making travel difficult and even life-threatening. So where do blizzards occur? While you may already have a general idea, there’s more to the story than you might think!
Blizzards can occur in many regions across the world. From the icy territories of Russia and Northern Europe to the snowy landscapes of North America and Canada, and even to Northeastern Asia. However, what many people may not realize is that there are several distinct types of blizzards that can affect how they form and impact the surrounding areas.
If you’re like me and have always been curious about these incredible weather events, then you’re in luck! I’ve put together this guide to shed some light on the fascinating world of blizzards. Read on to discover more about one of the most awe-inspiring displays that Mother Nature has to offer!
What Is A Blizzard And Where Do They Occur
The word blizzard is often bandied around extremely lightly. And while some people would describe a blizzard as “windy snow” or something similar. There is actually a scientific way you can determine a blizzard.
According to the National Weather Service, a blizzard is characterized by heavy snow or blowing snow, winds that exceed 35 mph (56 kph), and visibility of less than ¼ mile (0.4 km) for a minimum of three consecutive hours.
However, while this is the accepted definition in the US (and something that works for me!). Different countries might describe blizzard conditions a little differently. This will likely change depending on the wind speed, the visibility conditions, the wind chill, and even how much snow is present at the time.
So, as I said, you can pretty much expect blizzards to occur in many geographical areas across the world. But they are most common in regions with cold climates and plenty of snow.
Places like the northern United States, Canada, Scandinavia, Russia, and Antarctica are all notorious for their brutal blizzards. In these areas, blizzards can be so severe that they can cause transportation disruptions, power outages, and other significant impacts on daily life.
However, even mountainous areas and coastal regions that are vulnerable to nor’easters can experience these intense storms. Nor’easters are powerful weather phenomena that can strike the northeastern coast of the United States with heavy snow and strong winds. These storms usually occur during the winter months and can last for several days. Bringing with them significant damage to coastal communities
Types Of Blizzards And How They Form
It may come as a surprise, but blizzards can occur even in clear conditions and without any new snowfall at the time. However, particular circumstances need to exist that are suitable for the existing snow to result in a blizzard.
I know, this sounds a little confusing – but I can help to clear this up a little better. There are actually several types of a blizzard and all of them have their own traits and characteristics.
Let’s take a look at some of these in a little more detail:
Ground blizzards are probably the most simple type of blizzard to explain. They are basically large winter storms that cause disruption to things like travel and communication.
This is the type of blizzard I touched upon earlier where ground snow is being moved around due to strong winds. This of course can cause problems such as low visibility and indeed, a temperature drop.
To complicate matters a little more, there are actually three types of meteorological processes involved in ground blizzards. They’re called vertical advection, horizontal advection, and thermal-mechanical.
However, to avoid confusion, I’ll simply say that each of these is a product of how the air and wind are moving at the time. And it can lead to heavier, or softer, snowfall.
Lake Effect Blizzard
Lake effect blizzards are a unique type of blizzard that happen when cold air masses from Canada or the Arctic move across the warmer waters of the Great Lakes. Causing moisture to pick up and transform into clouds that release heavy snowfall.
The amount of snowfall depends on different factors, such as wind direction and speed, the temperature of the lake water, and moisture in the air. These blizzards can cause severe transportation disruptions, power outages, and dangerous travel conditions. Although the frequency and severity of Lake Effect Blizzards vary each year. They are relatively common in areas near the Great Lakes, including western and central New York, northern Ohio, and southern Ontario.
Nor’ Easter Blizzard
A Nor’easter Blizzard, which is also referred to as a Northeastern Blizzard, is a type of severe winter storm that primarily affects the northeastern region of the United States. Especially the New England states. It is marked by strong, sustained winds blowing from the northeast. Heavy snowfall and storm surges that may result in coastal flooding.
Nor’easter Blizzards are typically generated by the collision of cold Arctic air with warmer, moisture-laden air from the Atlantic Ocean, giving rise to a potent storm system. (Also see ‘Warm And Cold Fronts: What Is The Difference‘). They are often accompanied by significant snow accumulations, high wind speeds, and reduced visibility, rendering travel and transportation extremely perilous.
Several factors contribute to the formation of Nor’easter Blizzards, including:
- Colliding air masses: Nor’easter Blizzards often form when a cold Arctic air mass collides with a warmer, moist air mass from the Atlantic Ocean.
- Coriolis Effect: The Coriolis Effect, which causes the rotation of the Earth, can also contribute to the formation of Nor’easter Blizzards. This effect causes the counterclockwise rotation of the storm, which strengthens the storm and can cause it to intensify rapidly.
- Low pressure system: Nor’easter Blizzards form around a low-pressure system, which can bring in cold air from the north and warmer, moist air from the south.
- Jet stream: The position and intensity of the jet stream, a high-altitude air current, can also impact the formation and intensity of Nor’easter Blizzards.
- Ocean temperatures: The temperature of the ocean can also play a role in the formation of Nor’easter Blizzards. If the ocean is relatively warm, it can provide additional moisture to the storm system and cause it to intensify.
All of these factors contribute to the formation and intensity of Nor’easter Blizzards. Making them powerful and potentially dangerous weather events.
Are Blizzards Dangerous?
Yes – in fact by looking at the history, I’ve found that there is usually a very high death toll connected with blizzards. However, it depends on the location of them.
Indeed, it’s important to note that many countries that experience blizzards will generally have some sort of protection for their homes and livestock. Many years before now though, this was certainly not the case.
However, despite some forms of protection in some places, blizzards are still one of the most dangerous weather events in the world. Traffic incidents such as car crashes can happen due to low visibility, slippery road surfaces, and high winds.
Walking pedestrians can be hit by moving objects and some homes can even have their windows broken due to the sheer power of the blizzard. Then, of course, there is the temperature element to consider.
As the temperature drops significantly, people are at risk of frostbite and hypothermia – both of which can be very dangerous.
However, one of the dangers that come along with a blizzard is something that is often overlooked but has been reported on a lot by multiple news outlets. Due to the drop in temperature, many people will rightly use indoor generators.
The problem is however, there is a huge risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and even heart attacks due to overexposure to the harmful product.
What should I do if I’m caught in a blizzard?
Winter storms can be unpredictable. Imagine this: you’re walking outside on a winter’s day when suddenly, the wind picks up and the snow starts to fall harder. Before you know it, you’re caught in the middle of a blizzard! Don’t panic, here are some tips to keep you safe:
Don’t worry, here are some helpful tips to keep you safe:
- Find shelter: Look for any kind of shelter, such as a building or car, to protect yourself from the wind and snow.
- Cover up: Use warm, layered clothing to cover your head, face, and hands to prevent heat loss. Don’t forget to put on a hat and gloves if you have them!
- Keep moving: If you can’t find shelter, keep moving to generate body heat. But, be careful not to overexert yourself and start sweating, which can lead to chilling.
- Signal for help: If you’re stranded and need help, use a whistle, flashlight, or anything that can draw attention to your location.
- Stay hydrated: It’s important to drink plenty of water or other non-alcoholic beverages to avoid dehydration.
- Stay awake: Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep! Falling asleep can lead to hypothermia.
Remember, it’s always best to avoid going outside during a blizzard. But, if you have to go outside, take these precautions to keep yourself safe and warm.
What is the difference between a blizzard warning and a blizzard watch?
A blizzard warning means that a blizzard is either happening or expected to happen soon in the warning area. Usually within the next 12 to 24 hours. On the other hand, a blizzard watch means that blizzard conditions are possible in the watch area. Usually within the next 36 to 48 hours.
A blizzard warning and a blizzard watch are both issued by the National Weather Service (NWS). But how do they determine if it’s a blizzard warning or a blizzard watch? Well, a blizzard warning is declared when winds of at least 35 mph, together with falling or blowing snow, consistently cause visibility to drop to 1/4 mile or less for a minimum of three hours. A blizzard watch, however, is issued when there is potential for blizzard conditions to develop. But it’s not yet certain whether they will occur.
Now, if a blizzard warning is issued, you need to take immediate action to protect yourself and your property. That may mean staying indoors, avoiding travel, and making sure you have enough supplies to last through the storm. But if a blizzard watch is issued, you should start preparing for the possibility of a blizzard by monitoring weather updates, securing your property, and making a plan for what to do if a blizzard does occur.
In summary, a blizzard warning is a more urgent and definite alert than a blizzard watch. It means that blizzard conditions are either already happening or expected to happen soon. A blizzard watch, on the other hand, is a less certain alert that means there is potential for blizzard conditions to develop in the near future.
Blizzards are not just a simple “windy snow” occurrence. They are an awe-inspiring display of Mother Nature’s power and can happen in various regions across the world, from icy territories to snowy landscapes. There are several different types of blizzards. Such as ground blizzards, lake effect blizzards, and Nor’easter blizzards. Each has its own traits and characteristics.
The severity and impact of these blizzards can cause transportation disruptions, power outages, and significant damage to communities. Making them a force of nature that requires attention and preparation.