Snow can be incredibly fun, building snowmen, throwing snowballs, and sledding. But there are some times in which you wouldn’t, want to go outside in the snow, one of which is a blizzard.
But why is that? What happens during a blizzard?
Well, a blizzard is a severe snowstorm characterized by strong severe winds that can reach 56km/h and last for a prolonged period of time.
This isn’t quite the optimal sledding or snowman-building weather and can be quite dangerous if you happen to be caught out in one.
Let’s take a closer look…
What Is A Blizzard?
The Met Office defines a blizzard as moderate or heavy falling snow (either continuous in the form of frequent showers) with wind speeds of 55km/h (30mph) or more and a reasonably extensive snow cover reducing visibility to 200 meters or less.
If the blizzard exceeds 72km/h or 45mph, there will be near-zero visibility and the event will be categorized as a severe blizzard.
As well as having incredibly high-speed winds, to be categorized as a blizzard the event must last for at least three hours and produce a large amount of falling snow.
Some blizzards can be so strong that they have wind speeds as strong as a category 1 or category 2 hurricane.
Blizzards are essentially large and powerful snowstorms, and they start much like some other extreme weather events do when two large areas of air meet.
One of these areas of air is cold, and one is warm. To make a blizzard, the warm air gets pushed up on top of the cold air.
This makes conditions just right for wind and water to collide and create a blizzard. But blizzards don’t usually have rain with them, they have snow instead.
Snow is frozen water, and since the air that’s on the bottom of the storm and closer to the ground, it can freeze into snow.
What Happens During A Snow Blizzard?
During a blizzard, winds are high and there is a lot of snowfall, resulting in low visibility and incredibly cold temperatures.
Due to the amount of snow falling from the sky, visibility is incredibly low, and oftentimes you may only be able to see two blocks down the street or less.
In some super strong blizzards, there may be no visibility at all, which can make it disastrous for those that are caught in a blizzard whilst driving.
This is sometimes defined as a “whiteout” – when the high winds make the blowing snow so powerful that it’s almost impossible to see anything.
Combined with a lack of visibility, there will also be freezing cold temperatures and a lot of snow, but to be defined as a blizzard there is no temperature or amount of snow that is required to differentiate between a snowstorm and a blizzard.
Some blizzards can leave behind as much as 6 feet of snow, which can take days to melt and leave families stranded.
Snowstorms and blizzards are two separate events, and as well as lack of visibility, for a snowstorm to be defined as a blizzard, it must last for three hours or more.
As well as low visibility and a lengthy amount of time, for a snowstorm to be a blizzard, winds must also be 55km/h an hour.
What Are The Effects Of A Blizzard?
There are many effects of blizzards that impact us, humans, in a number of different ways.
When a blizzard strikes, it often takes many by surprise and can cause huge delays and risks for everyone involved.
Traffic and Transportation
One of the biggest effects of a blizzard is the impact it has on traffic and transportation networks.
Driving in a strong blizzard is simply impossible and incredibly dangerous, with the sheer amount of snowfall, roads are slippery and accidents are more likely than ever.
Combine this with the 55km/h minimum winds that can blow lorries and cars off the road, it’s one of the worst situations you could find yourself in.
Visibility is so low during a blizzard that drivers often cannot see a couple of cars ahead of them, meaning they need to pull over and wait for the blizzard to pass.
Those driving on motorways may end up in car accidents as they are simply unable to stop fast enough due to the snow or due to the lack of visibility.
This can result in multiple medical emergencies with ambulances taking much longer to attend the scene due to the traffic and blizzard.
Traffic builds up and can cause delays for hours, even days whilst the blizzard passes and drivers are able to see again.
As well as the impact on traffic, transportation suffers during blizzards too. Buses are often delayed and are too risky to drive during blizzards due to their size.
Trains, planes, and taxis also experience groundings and delays during blizzards due to the risks.
Human Health Risks
Being caught out in a blizzard is a scary experience, winds are high and temperatures can be freezing cold.
With low visibility, it’s hard to navigate and know where you are going, meaning you can get lost and put yourself at risk of hypothermia or frostbite.
Skin that is exposed to blizzards can experience numbness and loss of feeling in minutes, which can result in a medical emergency.
This is why it’s crucial to always stay indoors during a blizzard, and don’t risk going outside.
Effects On Wildlife
The amount of snow that falls during a blizzard can have surprising effects on wildlife, with animals being forced to move out of their natural habitats to survive.
Wildlife may also be forced to resort to different methods of finding food, which is often why many people experience deer coming up to their homes during a blizzard in the hopes of being fed.
If the ground is covered with snow, many animals simply cannot eat until it melts, which can mean they put themselves in risky situations that they otherwise wouldn’t.
The winds during a blizzard can be incredibly strong, which can result in environmental effects that take weeks or months to recover from.
Trees may blow down in woodland areas which causes an excess of carbon dioxide to be released and can cause an imbalance in the local ecosystem.
Plants will die, thus affecting the wildlife that relies on them for food.
Business And Infrastructure
Many high street businesses will need to close during a blizzard, and the number of customers they experience will be incredibly low due to people not venturing outside.
Staff will also likely experience delays due to traffic and risks coming into work, which can impact the business opening hours.
Blizzards can cause people’s homes to be damaged, with garden fences often being blown down due to the strong winds.
Communication systems may also go down during a blizzard, affecting emergency services communication and causing further delays.
How To Prepare For A Blizzard?
Technology in today’s modern world is getting better and better at predicting extreme weather events such as blizzards.
This means that oftentimes we will have a short warning beforehand and the blizzard will likely be predicted through a weather forecast.
If you suspect a blizzard is coming, there are a couple of ways you can prepare to ensure you are in the best position possible to make it through.
- Full your vehicles up with gas beforehand
- Ensure your cupboards are stocked with plenty of food
- Make sure you have an emergency first aid kit at home and in your vehicles
- Wear multiple layers and warm clothes (gloves, wooly hat, scarf)
- Stay indoors and keep yourself entertained with board games
- Reach out to your employed and work from home where possible
- Have a backup plan for power in case of an outage
So, what happens during a blizzard? Strong winds, low visibility, and a lengthy event that is incredibly dangerous for many involved.
Blizzards are dangerous events that can cause multiple traffic accidents and end lives. It’s important to prepare where you can and ensure you minimize risks during a blizzard.
Hopefully, this post has been insightful into what exactly happens during a blizzard and what to expect, as well as how to prepare for a blizzard and stay safe.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post and I hope you’ve learned something today.
Hey, I’m Sam – the founder of GustyPlanet. I’ve had a fascination with all things weather for as long as I can remember. I witnessed my first tornado at the age of 6, and since then became an avid storm chaser that is hooked on learning as much as I can about extreme weather. This blog was created to share my knowledge and to expand and delve deeper into the wonderful world of weather phenomena. I hope you enjoy your stay here and thanks for visiting.