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Blizzard: Its True Definition

UPDATED January 26, 2015

By WeatherBug Meteorologists


One of the most frightening winter weather terms - - "Blizzard" -- is being plastering across headlines, Twitter and Facebook, striking fear in millions of people. But what exactly is a blizzard?

A blizzard is a snowstorm that has winds of 35 mph or more, with snow reducing visibilities to 1/4 mile or less for at least three hours. Blizzards normally have very heavy snowfall and temperatures in the 20s, but snowstorms don`t have to have a certain amount of snow or a specific temperature to be considered a blizzard.

Blizzards can be extremely hazardous because they can paralyze regions for several days, cause widespread power outages and even take lives. Economic losses can be in the millions.

A notable example of a blizzard that created a significant economic impact on a large area was the Great Blizzard of 1996. On January 6-8, 1996, the Northeast was struck by a major blizzard that buried the region under one of the greatest snowfalls of the 20th century. Heavy snow combined with strong winds to cause near zero visibilities for a prolonged period of time.

The metropolitan areas of Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York, and Boston were virtually paralyzed as snowfalls of 19 to 31 inches created 5 to 8 foot snow drifts. In the mountains of western Virginia and West Virginia, nearly 4 feet of snow was common. The storm caused more than $500 million in damage, killed 60 people and left the region paralyzed a full five days after it ended.

Blizzards don`t occur just along East Coast. They also occur in the central U.S. and in the Rockies. Blizzards in these regions can have the same extremes in snowfall as did the Blizzard of 1996.

Another famous blizzard occurred on December 3-5, 1913. The region stretching from Cheyenne, Wyo., to Trinidad, Colo., was covered with deep snow and blasted with wind gusts up to 50 mph. Snow drifts reached to the eaves on houses and were as high as the tops of trolley cars. In fact, the snowfall was so heavy that numerous trains stalled at different locations in eastern Colorado.

Blizzards truly bring out the fiercest of old man winter.

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Story image: A car is buried in a snow-drift caused by a March, 2003, blizzard near Evergreen, Colo. (NOAA photo library)

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