As we’re being besieged by a winter storm, heaving shovelfuls of snow can give a person time to think. And, as I was digging my vehicle’s way out of the current white apocalypse, I wondered what, exactly, I was battling. Is this a snowstorm, or a blizzard? And, what’s the difference between them?
A snowstorm is your run-of-the-mill winter weather event, which can involve snow, sleet, ice, or freezing rain, accompanied by freezing temps. Snowstorms may result in hazardous surfaces & poor driving conditions, so they’re really nothing to mess around with.
A blizzard, however, brings real violence to the environment. To meet the blizzard standard, conditions have to involve three different weather events: sustained winds at 35 miles per hour or more; snow-reduced visibility of a quarter-mile or less; and the conditions must last for at least 3 hours.
Now, one’s not necessarily more severe than the other. A blizzard could create poor visibility & strong winds for a few hours but not leave much accumulation. In fact, a blizzard may not even involve active snowfall if there’s existing snow that’s being blown by wind. But on the whole, blizzards tend to be more threatening, since conditions can grow so bad that visibility is near zero & wind chill factors invite frostbite or hypothermia.
The storm we’re in now is classified as a nor’easter, which is a low-pressure system that starts in the Mid-Atlantic coast & gains strength as it moves.
As impressive as our current storm may be, there have certainly been worse. Much worse. For instance, in the Great Blizzard of 1888, the northeast was hammered by as much as 55 inches of snow & winds as high as 85 miles an hour. Above-ground water & gas lines became frozen, walking was all but impossible…it was rough. How rough? Out of around 1000 people who were supposed to work at the New York Stock Exchange that day, only about 30 made it in. (Kinda makes you wonder why you called out from work, doesn’t it?)
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