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What is a blizzard?

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The term "blizzard" is often used in the winter to describe a large snowstorm. However, there are specific qualifications that snowstorms need to meet in order to be classified as a "blizzard." Did you know that the classification isn't dependent on snowfall totals?

The National Weather Service classifies a blizzard as "a storm with sustained or frequent winds of 35 mph or higher with considerable falling and/or blowing snow that frequently reduces visibility to 1/4 of a mile or less. These conditions are expected to prevail for a minimum of 3 hours".

A common misconception is the actual amount of snowfall needed in a snowstorm to be classified as a blizzard. The strong sustained winds and reduced visibilities over a minimum of 3 hours are the two main factors that make up a blizzard not the amount of snowfall. A blizzard warning can actually be issued with no falling snow at all, these are called "Ground Blizzards". Ground blizzards occur when loose snow or ice on the ground is lifted in the air causing visibility issues. These can actually occur with clear skies!

Nick Jansen

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