If you live in the northern half of the US, you’ve most likely experienced a blizzard before. For you southerners, you’re probably familiar with the concept, but equate it to being trapped in a snow globe or something along those lines. Either way, do you actually know what makes a snowstorm a blizzard? Turns out there are a certain set of criteria that have to be met, and one region’s snowstorms always seem to fit the ‘blizzard’ bill: Blizzard Alley.
What is a blizzard?
Blizzards are characterized by blowing snow, whipping winds, and low visibility. They’re a stunning weather phenomenon, but very dangerous, especially when on the road. Avoid driving if possible during a blizzard, but if it’s completely necessary, be sure to give yourself plenty of space between you and the car in front of you so something like this doesn’t happen:
With another snowstorm sweeping into Wisconsin, the State Patrol is using this recent crash video to remind drivers to slow down and give snowplows extra room. This video shows how snowplows often create a cloud of snow that can obscure visibility. pic.twitter.com/W8QBMCKi0c
— Wisconsin DOT (@WisconsinDOT) February 19, 2019
BAM! That came out of nowhere, didn’t it? Poor visibility doesn’t mess around, folks.
How do blizzards form?
A snowstorm officially escalates to a blizzard when it hits three criteria:
- Visibility drops to 1/4 of a mile or less
- There are sustained winds or frequent gusts of at least 35 mph
- These conditions last at least 3 hours
Things that aren’t factors include snowfall amount, temperature, and geographical location.
Where is Blizzard Alley?
The northern plains is the region you’re most likely to see a blizzard. I mean, it’s called Blizzard Alley for a reason! The flat terrain allows cold, strong wind from Canada to blow down across the region. Moment of silence for these poor states that have to deal with blizzards on a regular basis…
When snow isn’t falling but wind is strong enough to blow around snow that has already fallen, you get a ground blizzard. This can also result in visibility close to 0, or a complete whiteout. All blizzard conditions are hazardous for travelers, but whiteout conditions take the danger to a whole new level.
Now that you’re a bit more informed about blizzards, the next time you experience one, listen when your local officials or a meteorologist tells you to stay indoors!