What is a Blizzard Warning? A Major Snowstorm is On the Way

blizzard in new york city

Although blizzards are most common in the Great Plains, the upper Midwest, and the Northeastern U.S., blizzards can occur anywhere in the U.S., excluding the California coast and Gulf coast. Regions with colder temperatures and regular snowfall experience blizzards at a higher frequency, but blizzards can also happen in tropical areas at higher altitudes.

The National Weather Service issues a blizzard warning when severe winter weather is expected or occurring in an area. Whereas a winter storm warning is issued for many significant winter storms, these warnings are rare. Read on to learn more about blizzards, warnings, and some blizzard safety tips.

What is a Blizzard?

According to the National Weather Service, a blizzard is a winter storm with heavy snowfall or blowing and drifting snow that reduces visibility to ¼ mile or less for three hours or longer and winds gusting to 35 mph or more. There are no temperature requirements, although bitter cold temperatures often accompany blizzards. There are also no snowfall requirements either: some blizzards produce only a few inches of snow, while others pound areas with feet of snow.

Blizzard warnings are typically issued after a winter storm watch. However, a winter storm warning can be upgraded to a blizzard warning if blizzard conditions occur during the storm.

Similar to a blizzard in many ways, ground blizzards are a distinct sub-category of blizzards that are caused by strong winds lifting loose snow or ice on the ground into the air. Consequently, precipitation is not required for a ground blizzard, a key feature that helps differentiate blizzards from ground blizzards.

As with any severe weather, specific weather conditions are needed for a blizzard to occur. These weather conditions include:

  • Cold air to produce snow. For snow to maintain its form, colder temperatures must be present in the atmosphere and the ground. If the ground level is too warm, the snow will melt before hitting the ground.
  • Moisture is needed for clouds and precipitation. Before snow can form, moisture must be present. Since cold air is poor at holding moisture, most snow is not produced from cold air but comes from the water vapor emitted by lakes, rivers, and other sources.
  • Moist air must rise over the cold air to create clouds and snow. As warm air flows up a mountainside, warm air eventually rises to form clouds and turns into snowfall. Additionally, snow forms when warm and cold air comes together to form a front.

Blizzards form when these weather conditions are present simultaneously in an area. The mixture of moist and cold air provides the optimal conditions for snowfall.

What is a Blizzard Warning?

blizzard in annapolis mdPhoto: Leslie - stock.adobe.com

A blizzard warning is issued by the National Weather Service when a blizzard is occurring or is imminent. Since blizzards greatly limit visibility and can cause bodily harm, issuing a warning in an area helps locals stay informed and protect themselves in the event of a blizzard.

Staying indoors during a blizzard is essential for preserving body heat and avoiding conditions such as hypothermia and frostbite. Additionally, driving during a blizzard is dangerous because of the reduced visibility and the loss of tire traction caused by snow buildup on roads. We’ve listed some blizzard safety tips below.

Blizzard Safety Tips

Like other forms of severe weather, preparation is the best way to stay safe when a blizzard warning is in effect and reduce the risk of injury. Here are some precautionary preparedness actions that will help you prepare for hazardous weather:

  • Seek shelter and stay indoors. Blizzards expose you to extreme cold, so staying indoors is your best defense. Stoking the fireplace or turning on a heater to stay warm is important for mitigating the colder temperatures and creating an ideal environment when waiting for a blizzard to pass. Make sure you have sufficient heating fuel and emergency heating equipment ahead of time, and fill your gas tank. If you must go out, dress appropriately, with multiple layers of warm clothing.
  • Be prepared for power outages. You may lose power during a blizzard due to high winds. Make sure that you have plenty of batteries for flashlights. If possible, use a battery-powered lantern rather than a candle to reduce the fire risk.
  • Monitor the latest weather reports. Since blizzards last at least three hours, it is vital to stay updated on the latest weather forecasts. You can quickly check weather forecasts using a mobile device, weather radio, or local news.
  • Stock up on non-perishable food items. Whether stuck in a blizzard on the road or at home waiting for it to pass, you should have some non-perishable food items readily available. Blizzards can last for days and the effects for a week or more, so having a stockpile of non-perishables is crucial during prolonged events as grocery stores may not be easily accessible.
  • Take breaks during shoveling. Shoveling snow after a blizzard can be a big task. Take frequent breaks, and don’t overdo it. Heart attacks are a leading killer in the days after a blizzard hits.
  • Do not drive. The roads will be difficult, if not impossible, without four-wheel drive. If you venture out, pack an emergency kit and fully charge your cell phone before venturing out. Non-clumping kitty litter might also be a good idea as it can give you traction in the event you get stuck. Stay with your vehicle and call for help.
  • Watch your fireplace and coal-burning stove. If the exhausts of either your fireplace or stove get clogged by snow, you could be at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Aside from prioritizing your safety, your access to information during blizzards is also essential. You can prepare for a blizzard by investing in a weather radio.

As one of the best weather radios currently available, the Midland WR300 is an excellent choice. The Midland WR300 provides standard SAME alerts and non-weather alerts with its large, easy-to-read display.

blizzard warning bad road conditionsPhoto: Rob Casey/Danita Delimont - stock.adobe.com

Wrapping Up

Although blizzards can be severe, there are easy ways you can prepare and stay safe. If you live in an area that regularly experiences blizzards, periodically take inventory of your winter supplies and monitor the latest weather forecasts and warnings.

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Johnathan Orellana

Johnathan is The Weather Station Experts' resident "explainer in chief," writing many of our educational and how-to articles. He has been freelance writing for the past two years, specializing in digital marketing and general marketing tips.

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As Crazy About The Weather As We Are?We have just the place for you.

Don't miss a thing from The Weather Station Experts. Be the first to know about sales and limited-time deals. Unsubscribe at any time.