Blizzards are formed after snowstorms have dumped light-weight ice and snow particles which are then carried by winds, making visibility past a few miles nearly impossible. Some blizzards are of immense proportions, covering an area larger than some states in the US. Blizzards are deadly weather phenomena, having caused the deaths of thousands of people. One of the notable examples is the 1972 Iran blizzard which resulted in the deaths of more than 4,000 people.
Formation of a Blizzard
The National Weather Service states that for a blizzard to form there are a few conditions that need to be present. The first condition is the presence of sustained winds moving at speeds of at least 35 miles per hour. Secondly, there needs to be snow which should either be falling or blowing whose presence reduces visibility to less than 0.25 miles. Lastly, the two conditions should have persisted for at least three hours to be defined as a blizzard. If any of these conditions are not present then the area is said to experience ‘blizzard-like conditions’.
There are incidents where an area experiences snow that causes limited visibility, but if there is no wind, then the incident does not qualify to be defined as a blizzard. Temperatures should also be just right for a blizzard to form. The snow that is characteristic of blizzards is light in weight to be portable by the wind. As an example, water exposed to a temperature of 320 forms of snow that is half the depth a similar amount of water forms when exposed to a temperature of 200. For instance, the eastern seaboard experiences heavy snowstorms, but the region is not known for its blizzards since it does not experience strong winds and temperatures in the region are near to freezing leading to the formation of heavy snow.
Nor’easters are cyclones which bring about blizzard conditions. The weather phenomena get its name from the direction of its winds which hit the Atlantic seaboard (also known as the eastern seaboard). Some of the areas which are most likely to be struck by nor’easters include many locations in the northeastern part of North America. Such locations include areas in Maine, New Jersey, and North Carolina.
Many of the most destructive blizzards in history are caused by nor’easters. Examples include the Great Blizzard of 1888 and the North American Blizzard of 2003. The Great Blizzard of 1888 was notably disastrous as it caused the deaths of a reported 400 people in the United States after dropping as much as 50 inches of snow.
Ground blizzards occur when sustained winds pick up particles of snow and ice from the surface which are suspended on the air leading to decreased visibility. Unlike other blizzards, ground blizzards are formed even when there are no clouds in the sky which makes this type of blizzard dangerous as it is hard to be forecasted. Like other blizzards, ground blizzards lead to limited visibility sometimes below a quarter of a mile.
There are certain conditions that need to be present for ground blizzards to develop. One condition is the presence of an extensive relatively-flat area with minimal vegetation. A hilly or rugged terrain will dissipate the blizzard as soon as it forms, as is the case with a region with dense vegetation cover. The other condition necessary for the formation of a ground blizzard is cold temperatures so that the snow does not melt. Finally, there should be sustained strong winds which lift the snow off the ground to form the blizzard.
Where Are Blizzards Most Likely To Occur?
One of the countries that frequently experiences blizzards is China. The country has a long history of experiencing blizzards, particularly in its central and southern regions. One of the worst blizzard to hit the country was one which struck in 2008 known as the 2008 Chinese winter storms. The blizzard hit south and central China between January 25th and February 6th in 2008 and led to the deaths of at least 129 people. The blizzard coincided with a period when the country experienced its worst winter in more than 20 years when snow was reported in some desert areas including the Taklamakan. Meteorologists stated that the freezing winter was caused by La Nina weather phenomena and was not in any way attributed to the effects of global warming. China had to carry a heavy financial burden to alleviate its people from the effects of the blizzard which had not only destroyed millions of crops and livestock but had also extensively damaged the country’s electricity grid.
The United States
The United States has been hit by countless blizzards in its history, with incidents in the Great Plains and upper Midwest being unusually high. These regions offer the ideal conditions for the formation of blizzards including high winds and a flat terrain. One of the infamous periods in US history is associated with blizzards; the Snow Winter of the 1880s. The winter is considered among the worst in history and brought with it a series of destructive blizzards. The blizzards deposited tons of snow which paralyzed transport after blocking railway line tracks. After thawing, the snow caused water levels in the Missouri River to rise and eventually flood the downstream regions. The term ‘blizzard’ originated in the United States in the late 19th century when it was used to define a snowstorm that had hit Iowa in the 1870s. The blizzard was known as the Plains Blizzard which struck the Great Plains in January 1873.
In February 2018, Russia experienced one of the worst winters in the nation’s history. Known as the ‘Blizzard of the Century,’ the winter brought with it storms which deposited dozens of inches of snow in the country. Moscow was thought to have been under 22 inches of snow according to information from the meteorological office. The recent blizzard shows how prone Russia is to blizzards. The country even has a term for this weather phenomenon, ‘purgas.’
About the Author
Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor.
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