Ground blizzard

Last updated
A ground blizzard in Ontario, March 21, 2004 Ground blizzard.JPG
A ground blizzard in Ontario, March 21, 2004

Ground blizzard refers to a weather condition where loose snow or ice on the ground is lifted and blown by strong winds. [1] This can occur in the absence of precipitation, and can even occur when the sky is clear. This is in contrast to "ordinary" blizzards, which are accompanied by heavy falling snow. They can be especially dangerous as they occur after a winter storm has passed, when it is assumed that all forms of severe winter weather has ended. [2]


Meteorological criteria

While the term "ground blizzard" is often associated with intense blowing and drifting snow conditions, there are specific criteria which must be met. Often such criteria will be determined by a country's governing weather agency or other similar body. In the U.S, according to the National Weather Service a blizzard is defined as having sustained winds or frequent gusts of 35 mph or more, visibility frequently below 1/4 mile in considerable snow and/or blowing snow, and the above conditions are expected to prevail for 3 hours or longer. [3] Environment Canada similarly maintains that widespread reduction of visibility to less than 400 meters due to snow and/or blowing snow and sustained wind speeds or gusts of 40 km/h or more must be present for at least 4 hours (6 hours for the Northwest Territories and Nunavut) [4]


There are 3 different forms of ground blizzards:

  1. In horizontal advection conditions, the winds blow across the surface of the earth with very little if any large-scale upward motion.
  2. In vertical advection conditions, the winds exhibit large-scale upward motion lifting the snow into the atmosphere creating drifting waves of snow up to 500 meters in height.
  3. In thermal-mechanical mixing conditions, massive convective rolls form in the atmosphere and the blizzard may be observed from space with the blizzards convective rolls creating waves of snow (also known as snow billows) resembling lake or ocean effect snow bands. The extreme conditions can quickly bury a two-story home and make breathing very difficult if not impossible if caught outdoors.
    Strong advection rolls during a ground blizzard in North Dakota, January 15th, 1997 Blowing snow.gif
    Strong advection rolls during a ground blizzard in North Dakota, January 15th, 1997


Ground blizzards occur throughout the world, however unlike other winter storms, topography either aids in their formation or prevention. The most important topographic element in a blizzard is the requirement for a vast amount of large open and relatively flat land. Any type of flora, especially coniferous forms, will catch any drifting snow significantly reducing the blizzard's effects.[ citation needed ] The environment must also support temperatures cold enough to prevent any snow on the ground from melting and bonding the ice crystals together.

Ground blizzards are common in the American great plains in the wake of snowstorms producing light, dry snowfall that is more easily picked up by strong winds. [2] They are also common in the Canadian Prairies, Siberia, Northern China, and also Arctic and Antarctic regions during seasonal transition periods, such as the spring and fall.

Famous ground blizzards

Related Research Articles

Blizzard Type of snowstorm

A blizzard is a severe snowstorm characterized by strong sustained winds and low visibility, lasting for a prolonged period of time—typically at least three or four hours. A ground blizzard is a weather condition where snow is not falling but loose snow on the ground is lifted and blown by strong winds. Blizzards can have an immense size and usually stretch to hundreds or thousands of kilometres.

Fog Atmospheric phenomenon

Fog is a visible aerosol consisting of tiny water droplets or ice crystals suspended in the air at or near the Earth's surface. Fog can be considered a type of low-lying cloud usually resembling stratus, and is heavily influenced by nearby bodies of water, topography, and wind conditions. In turn, fog affects many human activities, such as shipping, travel, and warfare.

Winter storm Event in which the varieties of precipitation are formed that only occur at low temperatures

A winter storm is an event in which wind coincides with varieties of precipitation that only occur at freezing temperatures, such as snow, mixed snow and rain, or freezing rain. In temperate continental climates, these storms are not necessarily restricted to the winter season, but may occur in the late autumn and early spring as well. A snowstorm with strong winds and other conditions meeting certain criteria is called a blizzard.

Blizzard of 1977 Deadly 1977 blizzard in Western New York, United States, and Southern Ontario, Canada

The blizzard of 1977 hit Western New York and Southern Ontario from January 28 to February 1. Daily peak wind gusts ranging from 46 to 69 mph were recorded by the National Weather Service in Buffalo, with snowfall as high as 100 in (254 cm) recorded in areas, and the high winds blew this into drifts of 30 to 40 ft. There were 23 total storm-related deaths in Western New York, with five more in northern New York.

A winter storm warning is a hazardous weather statement issued by Weather Forecast Offices (WFO) of the National Weather Service (NWS) in the United States to alert the public that a winter storm is occurring or is about to occur in the area, usually within 36 hours of the storm's onset.

A winter weather advisory is a hazardous weather statement issued by Weather Forecast Offices (WFO) of the National Weather Service in the United States when one or more types of winter precipitation—snow, rain and snow mixed, freezing rain or sleet—presenting a hazard, but not expected to produce accumulations meeting warning criteria, are forecast within 36 hours of the expected onset of precipitation or are occurring in the advisory's coverage area.

A blowing snow advisory was issued by the National Weather Service of the United States when wind driven snow reduces surface visibility and possibly hampers traveling. Blowing snow may be falling snow, or snow that has already accumulated but is picked up and blown by strong winds. This advisory was discontinued beginning with the 2008–09 winter storm season, replaced by the winter weather advisory for snow and blowing snow. However, if the storm is judged to be dangerous by local forecasters, a winter storm warning for heavy snow and blowing snow may be issued.

A winter storm watch is issued by the National Weather Service of the United States when there is a possibility of heavy snow or potential of significant ice accumulations. The watch is typically issued 12 to 48 hours before the storm's arrival in the given area. The criteria for this watch can vary from place to place, which is true with other winter weather warning and advisories.

Severe weather terminology (United States) Terminology used by the National Weather Service to describe severe weather in the US

This article describes severe weather terminology used by the National Weather Service (NWS) in the United States. The NWS, a government agency operating as an arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) branch of the United States Department of Commerce (DoC), defines precise meanings for nearly all of its weather terms.

Snowsquall Sudden heavy snowfall accompanied with strong winds

A snowsquall, or snow squall, is a sudden moderately heavy snowfall with blowing snow and strong, gusty surface winds. It is often referred to as a whiteout and is similar to a blizzard but is localized in time or in location and snow accumulations may or may not be significant.

A lake effect snow warning is a bulletin issued by the National Weather Service in the United States to warn of heavy snowfall accumulations that are imminent from convective snow generated by very cold airmass passing over unfrozen lakes. The criteria for amounts may vary significantly over different county warning areas. On October 2, 2017, some National Weather Service Forecast Offices discontinued issuing the Lake Effect Snow Warning, and consolidated it with the Winter Storm Warning. On October 15, 2018, the National Weather Service discontinued issuing Lake Effect Snow Warnings nationwide all together, and all offices consolidated it with the Winter Storm Warning. Lake effect snow warnings were reinstated for the 2019–20 winter season.

Severe weather terminology (Canada)

This article describes severe weather terminology used by the Meteorological Service of Canada, a branch within Environment and Climate Change Canada. The article primarily describes various weather warnings, and their criteria. Related weather scales and general weather terms are also addressed in this article. Some terms are specific to certain regions.

Blowing snow is snow lifted from the surface by the wind, at eye level or more, that will reduce visibility. Blowing snow can come from falling snow or snow that already accumulated on the ground but is picked up and blown about by strong winds. It is one of the classic requirements for a blizzard. Its METAR code is BLSN. If the snow remains below 1.8 m (6 ft), it will be called drifting snow. The snow which is being blown about may deposit as snowdrifts.

Air-mass thunderstorm Thunderstorm that is generally weak and usually not severe.

An air-mass thunderstorm, also called an "ordinary", "single cell", or "garden variety" thunderstorm, is a thunderstorm that is generally weak and usually not severe. These storms form in environments where at least some amount of Convective Available Potential Energy (CAPE) is present, but very low levels of wind shear and helicity. The lifting source, which is a crucial factor in thunderstorm development, is usually the result of uneven heating of the surface, though they can be induced by weather fronts and other low-level boundaries associated with wind convergence. The energy needed for these storms to form comes in the form of insolation, or solar radiation. Air-mass thunderstorms do not move quickly, last no longer than an hour, and have the threats of lightning, as well as showery light, moderate, or heavy rainfall. Heavy rainfall can interfere with microwave transmissions within the atmosphere.

Blizzard warning Weather warning indicating blizzard conditions in the warned area

A blizzard warning is a hazardous weather statement issued by Weather Forecast Offices (WFO) of the National Weather Service (NWS) in the United States, which indicates heavy snowfall accompanied by sustained winds or frequent gusts of 35 mph (56 km/h) or greater are forecast to occur for a minimum of three hours. A blizzard tends to reduce visibilities to 14 mile (400 m) or less. A Severe Blizzard Warning is a variation issued in some cases of winds above 45 mph (72 km/h) and temperatures below 10 °F (−12 °C). Most local weather offices will activate and broadcast the SAME alarm tone on relevant NOAA Weather Radio stations for both varieties of warning. When the Wireless Emergency Alerts system was launched in 2012, blizzard warnings were initially sent as alerts to mobile phones; this practice was discontinued in November 2013.

A blizzard watch was a bulletin issued by the National Weather Service of the United States which meant winds greater than 35 miles per hour, mixed with falling or blowing snow, and visibilities of 14 mile (0.4 km) or less is forecast for a period of 3 hours or more. A blizzard watch was issued 12 to 48 hours before an expected blizzard event. As the forecast solidifies, a blizzard watch would be either downgraded to a winter storm warning or winter weather advisory for blowing snow or upgraded to a blizzard warning.

Classifications of snow Methods for describing snowfall events and the resulting snow crystals

Classifications of snow describe and categorize the attributes of snow-generating weather events, including the individual crystals both in the air and on the ground, and the deposited snow pack as it changes over time. Snow can be classified by describing the weather event that is producing it, the shape of its ice crystals or flakes, how it collects on the ground, and thereafter how it changes form and composition. Depending on the status of the snow in the air or on the ground, a different classification applies.

December 2010 North American blizzard

The December 2010 North American blizzard was a major nor'easter and historic blizzard affecting the Contiguous United States and portions of Canada from December 22–29, 2010. From January 4–15, the system was known as Windstorm Benjamin in Europe. It was the first significant winter storm of the 2010–11 North American winter storm season and the fifth North American blizzard of 2010. The storm system affected the northeast megalopolis, which includes major cities such as Norfolk, Philadelphia, Newark, New York City, Hartford, Providence, and Boston. It brought between 12 and 32 inches of snow in many of these areas.

Glossary of meteorology List of definitions of terms and concepts commonly used in meteorology

This glossary of meteorology is a list of terms and concepts relevant to meteorology and atmospheric science, their sub-disciplines, and related fields.

January 2022 North American blizzard North American blizzard in 2022

The January 2022 North American blizzard was a powerful and disruptive blizzard that impacted the Atlantic coast of North America from Delaware to Nova Scotia with as much as 2.5 feet (30 in) of snowfall, blizzard conditions and coastal flooding at the end of January 2022. Forming from the energy of a strong mid- to upper-level trough, the system developed into a low-pressure area off the Southeast United States on January 28. The system then quickly intensified that night as it traveled northeastly parallel to the coast on January 29, bringing heavy snowfall blown by high winds to the East Coast of the continent. Further north, it also moved inland in Maine and its width meant it strongly impacted all three of Canada's Maritime provinces. In some areas, mainly the coastal regions of New Jersey, Long Island and Massachusetts, it was the first blizzard since a storm in January 2018. The storm was considered a "bomb cyclone" as it rapidly intensified and barometric pressure dropped at least 24 millibars over a 24-hour period. The storm was given unofficial names such as Blizzard of 2022 and Winter Storm Kenan.


  1. Ahrens, C. Donald. Essentials of Meteorology: An Invitation to the Atmosphere. C. Donald Ahrens. 7th ed. Stamford: Cengage Learning, 2015. 144. Print.
  2. 1 2 Rauber, Robert M; Walsh, John E; Charlevoix, Donna Jean (2012). Severe & Hazardous Weather. p. 265. ISBN   9780757597725.
  3. "National Weather Service Glossary" . Retrieved 27 January 2018.
  4. "Criteria for Public Weather Alerts". Government of Canada. Retrieved 27 January 2018.