How Do Blizzards Form?

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:

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:

  1. Visibility drops to 1/4 of a mile or less
  2. There are sustained winds or frequent gusts of at least 35 mph
  3. 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!


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