Reduced visibility is common during a blizzard. This series of images show the progression of a blizzard that hit Winchester Hills, WY on December 20, 2006. These images were taken before the snow fell, 11AM, and 3PM respectively. This blizzard caused 12.5 inches (0.3 meters) of snow to fall in Cheyenne.
National Weather Service Forecast Office of Cheyenne, WY/ Ben Jacquot


Fast winds blowing up to 75 mph (120 kph), 43 inches (1 meter) of snowfall, power outages, and roofs collapsed due to the weight of the snow were all part of the Blizzard of 1993 that hit the entire East Coast of the United States. A blizzard or a severe snowstorm can cause a multitude of impacts.

Generally a blizzard is defined by the National Weather Service as a storm with large amounts of snow or blowing snow, winds greater than 35 mph (56 kph), and visibility of less than mile (0.4 km) for at least three hours. Some blizzards do not have snow falling at all. Instead, snow that had fallen previously blows at such a rate that it creates an effect similar to falling snow or large drifts of snow. This is called a ground blizzard.

Blizzard conditions usually build up on the northwestern side of a powerful storm system. The strong winds are from the difference in pressures between two systems; this means the difference in the low pressure system which is causing the stormy weather and the high pressure system to the west of the low.

The word blizzard was first used in the United States during the 1870s when a snowstorm in Iowa was described as a blizzard in a newspaper. This word caught on and has been used throughout the United States and England ever since.

Blizzards are most common in the United States, particularly the upper Midwest and the Great Plains according to the National Weather Service. Blizzards are common in Canada and Russia as well. In Russia, blizzards are called "purgas". While the areas mentioned are the most common, blizzards can occur all over the world. Iran experienced a blizzard in January of 2008 where the temperatures reached -11F (-24C), and record snowfalls were recorded. Places near the equator can experience blizzards especially at high altitudes.

Blizzard conditions can be severe. Automobile travel becomes dangerous when blowing snow causes whiteout conditions and everything looks white and indistinguishable. Roads can be partially or fully blocked by drifts of snow that have been caused by the blowing snow. Many times cold temperatures, below freezing, are also part of blizzard conditions. A cold temperature combined with high winds can lead to low wind chill values. Low wind chill values can cause hypothermia or frostbite.

Last modified August 1, 2008 by Vanessa Pearce.

You might also be interested in:

Cool It! Game

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more


Wind is moving air. Warm air rises, and cool air comes in to take its place. This movement creates different pressures in the atmosphere which creates the winds around the globe. Since the Earth spins,...more

History of Large Blizzards of North America

During the winter months, blizzards are common in the northern parts of North America. Some of the largest blizzard events that have hit this area of the United States and Canada are described below. On...more

Examples of Advisories, Watches, and Warnings for Weather Events

Below is a list of some weather conditions that call for an advisory, watch, or warning. Heat Advisory/Warning: A heat advisory is issued when the daytime temperature will be 105F (40.6C) for three hours...more

Team Begins Descent of Annapurna IV After a Summit No-go

On October 4, Brad and Tonya called via satellite phone from a location of 6,705 meters (22,000 feet) on Annapurna IV. They announced that they would be descending Annapurna IV. They werent able to summit...more

Blizzard at Base Camp

Hello all! It's James McKee, Communications Manager for the Dare to Dream 2008 Expedition. I just received an update from Brad Clement, Expedition Co-Leader. He called on his satellite phone to share what...more

Storm Breaks, allows team to ascend to Camp I

Hello all: This is just a quick update to inform you that the blizzard that kept the team pinned to the Annapurna IV base camp has lifted and allowed the expedition team to ascend to Camp I. Brad reports...more

The Snow-Storm by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Announced by all the trumpets of the sky, Arrives the snow, and, driving o'er the fields, Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air Hides hills and woods, the river, and the heaven, And veils the farm-house...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA