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Friday, 31 January 2014

Are There Differences Between a Winter Storm and a Blizzard?

I was watching a television documentary about the terrific loss of life in a storm in Asia. The conclusion was that many lives would have been saved if the weather experts had used the word “Tsunami”, which ordinary people understood. Instead they talked about “Severe Storm” which, to the villagers without television and relying on word of mouth or the radio, did not.

So, what about other terms weather experts might use - and which might help us in understanding emergency planning in our local area?

For example, the terms “winter storm” and “blizzard” seem interchangeable and often thought to be the same thing. In actuality, there are only a few differences between them that classify them as a different type of storm from the other. So what are these differences between a winter storm and a blizzard?

Winter Storm

A winter storm can drop a significant amount of snow on a region, in some cases up to 50cm or more over a period of time. Winter storms also can produce a variety of other precipitation such as freezing rain, ice pellets or even rain, depending on the temperature. Ice storms might form during a winter storm if there is a sudden drop in temperature, enough so that the rain freezes and accumulates rapidly.


A blizzard differs from a winter storm by the length of time it lasts, usually several hours to several days duration. Blizzards always have a heavy snowfall amount, high winds, generally in excess of 56 km an hour, with visibility at less than half a kilometer. A blizzard’s winds can pick up snow that is already on the ground and blow it around causing whiteout conditions, making it impossible to drive.

The wind is the greatest factor in determining a blizzard over a winter storm, but temperature can play a factor as well. The colder temperatures can freeze exposed skin for those trapped outside in vehicles or walking. However, it is the prolonged exposure to the elements that can cause the damage, as snow does not fall in extremely cold temperatures.

Dangers of Winter Storms or Blizzards

The primary dangers associated with winter storms or blizzards are the heavy snowfall amounts, the cold temperatures (especially if your vehicle is stuck on the road) and the high winds in a blizzard. High winds and heavy snow can cause power outages for days, frostbite can occur on exposed skin and even roof collapses due to the weight of heavy snow are possible.

It is important to monitor news and radio reports of approaching winter storms or the potential for blizzards and be prepared for them when they occur. If possible, stay at home and don’t drive or walk during a storm and have enough food, medical supplies and batteries to last the duration of the storm and for at least 5 days after it has passed.




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Photo courtesy of: Hampshire Snow Clearance

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