Blizzard Phenomenon: The Most Famous Blizzards and 10 Perfect Safety Tips

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Updated on: Educator Review By: Michelle Connolly

Blizzards are a natural phenomenon. They are dangerous winter storms with extreme winds and blowing

snow. The strong snow can make it hard to see far during a blizzard.

Some areas are more probable to be struck by blizzards than others, but a blizzard can occur in any place where the snow falls. A blizzard lasts for at least 3 to 4 hours.

Sometimes blizzards are mistaken for winter storms. The main difference between them is the strength of the wind.

What is a Blizzard?

Blizzards are violent winter storms with strong winds and blowing snow. They are stronger and more dangerous than common snowstorms. For a storm to be called a blizzard, the storm must have falling or blowing snow.

Some other characteristics are winds and visibility. As for winds, they should be 35 mph or more. Regarding visibility, it should be 1/4 mile or less. These conditions must last for three or more hours.

Whiteout conditions happen when the powdery blowing snow caused visibility to be almost impossible. While many believe that snow must be falling to have a blizzard, this is not right. Sometimes a ground blizzard can happen if heavy winds lift snow that has already fallen.

Blizzard on the Road
Blizzard on the Road and bad Visibility

Some Exciting Blizzard Facts 

  • Blizzards can happen after a snowfall if high winds result in whiteouts and snowdrifts which reduce visibility.
  • A snowstorm is considered a severe blizzard when the continuing winds are greater than 45 mph, almost zero visibility and the temperature is less than 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • A ground blizzard happens after the snow has fallen and violent winds blow around free snow on the ground, causing whiteouts and snowdrifts.
  • The first blizzard to be announced by Federal Emergency was in 1977, impacting upstate New York and Southern Ohio. The storm’s accumulation was only about 12 inches over 5 days, but the winds were fatal.
  • Some severe blizzards can have wind speeds as violent as a category one or category two hurricane.
  • Blizzards are most frequently happen in the Great Plains and upper Midwest of the United States.
  • A blizzard warning is announced if blizzard conditions are happening or expected to happen within 12 to 18 hours.
  • Travelling by car during a blizzard is an extreme danger. Because of low visibility and dangerous road conditions accidents are far more probably to occur. 
  • The word “blizzard” came from the Dutch word “bise”, which means “north wind”.
  • The most fatal blizzard in the world was the 1972 Iran Blizzard. It’s measured that as much as 26 feet of snow dropped during this historic blizzard, resulting in about 4,000 fatalities. 

How Do Blizzards Form?

A blizzard needs three things to form.

1. Cold air is required to create snow.

The temperature must be cold both on the level of the clouds and on the ground level. The clouds are where snowflakes form. When the air near ground level is too warm, the snow will melt on its way down, turning into rain or freezing rain.

2. Moisture is required to form clouds and precipitation.

Moisture in the air is referred to as water vapour. Air blowing around a source of water is a perfect source of water vapour. Since the wind carries air over the water, some water evaporates from the surface, placing vapour into the air. However, cold air can’t carry much water vapour. Very cold air does not create very much snow.

3. Warm, rising air is required to create clouds and make precipitation.

Warm air must go over cold air to form a blizzard. This happens in 2 ways. First, Winds attract cold air toward the equator from the poles and carry warm air toward the poles from the equator. 

When warm air and cold air are brought together, a front is created and precipitation happens. Second, Warm air can also go up to create clouds and blizzard snows since it flows up a mountainside.

How are Blizzards measured?

The National Weather Service (NWS) describes a blizzard as a huge amount of falling or blowing snow with winds greater than 35 mph and visibility decreased to 0.25 miles for a minimum of three hours.

Famous Blizzards Around the World

Blizzards are violent and dangerous too. They cause a lot of damage to people, animals, buildings…etc. There are many famous blizzards that had a destructive effect. Here is a list of these blizzards:

  • The Great Blizzard of 1888
  • The Armistice Day Blizzard in 1940
  • The Storm of the Century Blizzard in U.S in 1993
  • The Blizzard of 1977
  • The Great Blizzard of 1978
  • The Halloween Blizzard of 1991
  • The North American blizzard of 1996
  • The Blizzard of 1999
  • The North American blizzard of 2003
  • White Juan 2004
  • The North American blizzard of 2005

The blizzard of 1888: The Atlantic coast of the United States

blizzard LearningMole

The blizzard of 1888 was given the name the “Great White Hurricane” or  “Great Blizzard of 1888,”. It was the most violent storm dropping up to 55 inches of snowfall that caused snowdrifts up to fifty feet in some examples. 

The blizzard resulted in more than $20 million in property damage in New York City alone and caused the death of more than 400 people, including nearly 100 sailors, around the Eastern Seaboard.

Toward the end of winter, a cloudy and rainy day changed for the worse when the rain unexpectedly changed to hail, sleet, and snow. Heavy snows, bitter cold, and high winds extended from Washington DC, to the Canadian border in a storm that continued for three days. 

Connecticut had between 20 and 50 inches in different parts of the state, with snowdrifts estimating 12 feet and higher. For example, New Haven recorded drifts measuring 40 feet. 

The Blizzard of 1978 

The Blizzard of 1978 was a violent one that affected the New England area of the United States and extended to the New York metropolitan area. It kept snowing for 33 hours.

It formed on February 5, 1978, and stopped on February 8, 1978. The snowfall happened mainly between the morning of the 6th and the evening of the 7th. Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts were specifically badly hit by this storm. It was up to 55″ of snow fell in some areas.

The storm was calculated to be 1,500-2,000 miles in diameter. 15-foot snow drifts were declared. Newsday also reported that 3,000 cars were left across Long Island, and 11 houses were ruined.

On February 8, 1978, Newsday declared 3 people passed away on Long Island. It resulted in more than $520 million in damage in total around the Northeast.

The Armistice Day Blizzard in 1940

It is One of the worst November storms of the last century, during the Armistice Day holiday. The day of the November 11 was a warm day. Hunters were excited hunting the ducks. The weather changed suddenly; sky turned black and the blizzard started.

The storm resulted in more than $2 million in damage. Approximately 150 people died, including 49 Minnesotan duck hunters who died on the Mississippi River. Another 66 people died on boats caught unexpectedly in the waters of Lake Michigan when the storm struck. 

The Storm of the Century – A Blizzard in U.S in 1993

It is also known as the “Superstorm”. It formed over the Gulf of Mexico on March 12 and struck the East Coast, from Florida to Canada and as far west as the Dakotas. The force winds reached up to 110 mph and snow reached 69 inches in some areas.

 270 people in 13 different states died, 15 from Georgia. 10 million people without power, nearly 4% of the population at the time. 200 homes on North Carolina Outerbanks were damaged, 18 homes on Long Island fell into the water.

The Blizzard of 1977

By Friday the 28th, afternoon, continuous winds at the Buffalo airport would reach 46 mph, with blows up to 69 mph. Together, the wind and free snow joined to create a wall of snow, dropping visibility to zero, for nearly 13 hours, starting at 11:30 a.m. Friday, Jan. 28.

People were struck with white-outs. cars were totally buried and everyone was totally isolated from others. Violent winds smashed windows carrying snow and ice into homes. 

unexpectedly, less than 10 Niagara residents died while domestic animals across the region actually froze to death. More than 2,000 children at 24 schools were stuck in their buildings under the responsibility of their teachers. There were another 700 students stuck at Niagara College.

blizzard LearningMole

The Halloween Blizzard of 1991

The storm mainly affected Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan. Meteorologists called it a “mega storm”.  At the end of Halloween night, parts of the Twin Cities registered 31 inches of snow on the ground.

Snow began in Duluth at about 1:00 pm on October 31st and did not stop until 1:00 pm on November 3rd. It lasted for about 72 hours. Moderate to heavy snow fell in Duluth with as much as 2 inches per hour for about 15 hours.

Winds frequently blasted, between 30 and 40 MPH. Visibility was often near zero around much of the region. The total number of people estimated to be affected by the storm is 23,000,000. Around 900 Schools and businesses closed on November 1.

The North American blizzard of 1996

The storm started in the Gulf of Mexico on the morning of January 6th. It is one of the most extreme East Coast snowstorms. It was reported that 17.1 inches of snow dropped in Washington, D.C.

The blizzards seriously affected both people and property. It caused the death of 154 people and resulted in more than $1 billion in damages before it stopped. 

Two buses crashed in Pittsburgh and 52 were extremely injured. The storm deaths were mainly because of traffic accidents, falling trees and homeless people dying from dropping body temperature. In a few examples, people who were stuck in their cars died from breathing carbon monoxide. 

The Blizzard of 1999

A blizzard struck the city on Jan. 2, 1999. It was one of the most violent in Chicago history. The storm dropped a total of 21.6 inches of snow on the city within two days. On Jan. 2, it was about 17 inches of snow.

Midwest airports were closed, some for several days. Schools were shut for many days, many businesses were closed as well. 78 people perished in the storm. Losses as a result of the storm are measured between $300 and $400 million.

The North American blizzard of 2003

The Blizzard of 2003 is also given the name of the Presidents’ Day Storm of 2003, or Presidents’ Day Storm II. It was a very violent snowstorm on the East Coast of the United States and Canada. It began on February 15 and ended on February 18, 2003.

A lot of snow dropped in the big cities in the Northeast US, causing it to be the greatest snowstorm of the snowy winter of 2002-2003. All cities from Washington DC to Boston were coated in a lot of snow, and people could not move around because of the bad weather. 

White Juan 2004

It was given the name “White Juan”. It shaped about 200 km southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and strengthened over the Gulf Stream before coming to Atlantic Canada. 

snow and wind together decreased visibilities to as little as one metre. winds reached 60 to 80 km/h, blasting to 120 km/h in some areas. The total loss was measured at $19.9 million. 

The North American blizzard of 2005

The North American blizzard of 2005 lasted for three days.It impacted big areas of the northern United States. It dropped over 3 feet of snow in parts of southeastern Massachusetts, and much of the Boston metropolitan area.

The storm closed Logan International Airport in Boston, Massachusetts and T. F. Green Airport in Rhode Island. Nearly all schools in the Metrowest and South-East regions of Massachusetts were shut down for at least two days. 

A Blizzard Experiment in a Jar

Supplies Needed

  • Baby oil
  • A jar
  • A bowel
  • Water
  • Some white paint
  • Some glitter
  • Blue colouring
  • Some Alka-Seltzer


1- Pour the baby oil into the jar.

2- Fill the jar halfway with the oil.

3- Add water to the bowel.

4- Add the white paint to the water.

5- Mix the white pink with the water.

6- Add some glitter to the jar.

7- Add some drops of blue colouring to the jar.

8- Crush up the Alka-Seltzer.

9- Add the parts of the Alka-Seltzer to the jar.

10- Watch the blizzard!

Dangers of Blizzards

  • People can get lost in the blinding snow.
  • A higher risk of car accidents, decrease in the body temperature,  freezing of the tissues of some part of the body, breathing in carbon monoxide at extreme levels, and heart attacks from exerting too much effort.
  • Can carry extreme cold, chilly rain, snow, ice and high winds.
  • Temperatures can reach near or below 10° F, winds can exceed 45 mph, and visibility can be decreased by snow to near zero.
  • Ice and winds make trees fall and plants die.
  • The extra carbon result in an imbalance in the local ecosystem, which affects other plants and wildlife. 
  • When other plants die during a blizzard, their scarcity also affects the food supply for local animals and wildlife.
  • Ice can break apart communications and power for days.
  •  Bridges are specifically risky because they freeze before other surfaces.
blizzard LearningMole

Some safety precautions for blizzards

  • Remain indoors and dress warmly.
  • Eat continuously and drink water.
  • If you have to go outside, wear layered clothing, mittens and a hat.
  • Watch for signs of dropping body temperature.
  • Make sure your home heating sources are set up according to local codes and permit conditions.
  • Make sure your home heating sources are clean and working properly.
  • Store enough heating fuel. Be careful of fire dangers when storing any type of fuel.
  • Install a portable generator.
  • Bring your fellow animals indoors. 
  • Install snow fences in rural regions to decrease drifting snow on roads and paths, which could be a barrier to accessing homes, barns, and animals’ feed and water.
  • Listen to local area radio or TV stations for updates.
  • Be prepared to evacuate if power is cut off or heat.
  • Find a local emergency shelter.


A blizzard is a violent snowstorm with extreme winds and blowing snow. Some of the characteristics of the blizzard are winds and visibility. A blizzard causes a lot of damage to both people and property. There are some famous blizzards around the world. There are some useful safety tips for safety precautions for people.

If you enjoyed this article why not check out some more Geography Facts and Topics: Mountains, Rainbows, Hurricanes, Thunderstorms, Islands, Deserts, Volcanoes and Continents.

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