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Blizzards vs Snowstorms: What’s the Difference?

Even though some snow storms may make you feel as if you are in a blizzard – you probably aren’t. More often than not, a snowstorm does not meet the criteria to be officially declared a blizzard.

Check out these interesting facts about blizzards and how to tell the difference between those and snowstorms.

Blizzard Criteria

The National Weather Service declares a blizzard only if a snowstorm meets ALL of these conditions:

  • Winds or gusts greater than or equal to 35 miles per hour
  • Blowing or drifting snow that reduces visibility to 1/4 mile or less. This condition must also be present for a length of time which is typically three hours or more.

If a snowstorm does not meet these requirements, then it is simply that – a snowstorm.

Blizzard Facts

  • Blizzards can be declared even if snow if no longer falling if high winds and snowdrifts decrease visibility. This type of blizzard is called a ground blizzard.
  • Upstate New York and Southern Ohio were the first areas that a blizzard was declared a Federal Emergency in 1977. That storm, although it only dropped about 12 inches of snow over a period of five days, had very strong winds.
  • A blizzard categorized as a severe blizzard has winds of over 45 miles per hour causing almost zero visibility and temperatures below 10 degrees.
  • The deadliest blizzard in recorded history happened in Iran in 1972. The blizzard dropped about 26 feet of snow covering 200 villages and killed at least 4,000 people.

Blizzard Safety Tips

  • If you are caught outdoors during a blizzard it is very important to stay nourished and hydrated.
  • Do not eat snow. It will actually reduce your body temperature progressing the possible onset of hypothermia.
  • If you have no other option to keep out of the wind and cold, build a snow cave to block the winds.
  • If it is absolutely necessary to drive during a blizzard or even the possibility a blizzard could occur, ensure you have an emergency kit including water, blankets, jumper cables, road flares, non-perishable snacks, and tow rope. It would also be a good idea to pack a tarp in the trunk of your car, as well as a shovel.

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