Earth Science

What is a snow storm?

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Staten Island Blizzard, 1947
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Knowing what is a snow storm is not that obvious to people from many regions

People who live in the Midwest or the northern parts of the United States, or any area in the world that is northerly, don't have to be told what a snow storm is; however, there are those who have never seen a single flake of snow, and they have no concept of what it is like to be subjected to a snow storm.

"What is a snow storm," is a valid question from many of the earth's residents.

Technically, a snow storm occurs when there is an excessive amount of snow in a short period of time.


Snow storms can be cozy, romantic and even fun for a couple of days if you are safe and warm and snuggled up in front of your fireplace, preferably in a Swiss-style chalet; the kitchen cabinets are stocked with food, you have some good books to read, good company, a bottle or two of wine, and you donít need to go anywhere. However, that is not the scenario for most people who have to trek out into elements and go to work or school.


Snow storms can be downright scary if you are caught in one, either in a vehicle or on foot. Driving in heavy snow is a perilous, frightening undertaking. So is being stuck outside in a storm while on foot, facing poor visibility and possibly disorientation. People have gotten lost in snowstorms because they couldnít figure out where they were.

In fact, two inches of snow are enough to create havoc in some areas, particularly in those venues that are not accustomed to snow and aren't prepared for it.  In areas that are more accustomed to snow, it doesn't get really hazardous until there are six inches of snow fall.  


When vast snowfall is accompanied by high winds and extreme chill factors this is considered a blizzard. Throw in an ice storm and the game is on.  

When snow accumulates to six inches it is very hard or even impossible to navigate on roads that are unplowed. Vehicles and their drivers and passengers frequently get stuck in the snow, which can be alarming.

Snow sometimes forms snow drifts that can be several feet high, especially when it is windy. These drifts cause more problems if you are trying to travel because they blow across the roadway, making it even harder to see.  

Visibility is poor in a snow storm. Sometimes the snow is so severe it causes a white-out. All you can see is white. Contrast, along with visibility, is practically nil when a white-out is caused by snow or sand. The horizon vanishes and you do not have any reference points. This is disorienting.  

White-outs may also be the result of lighting being diffused due to overcast mist, clouds, fog or a background of snow. People can lose their way even in areas that they are very familiar with.

White-outs come in various forms, including during blizzards, when the snow is already on the ground but is being blown, which makes it impossible to see. Another form occurs when snow is falling so heavily that you cannot see a thing. Even when it is not snowing but the ground is totally covered with snow, coupled with lighting that is diffused due to overcast clouds this creates a white-out and makes it impossible to define surfaces. You lose your depth perception and cannot tell how far away things are. In fact, the white-out can be so severe that you cannot detect mountain ranges because they become invisible against a background of white cloud. This is called a sector white-out or flat light. Thick fog over a snow covered area can create a white-out effect.

Snow storms are scary and treacherous, but they arenít as dangerous as ice storms. Driving and even walking on ice is like walking on a tightrope with no experience. It rankles the nerves and, in addition, often results in car accidents and people falling and busting their tushes and other body parts.  

When the snow melts following a snow storm this can result in floods. Power outages are common during snow storms, which leave people without heat or electricity.

So there you have it. What is a snow storm? It might just be be factor that makes you decide to remain in the south?

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