Is a blizzard a natural disaster? A blizzard is a potentially life-threatening weather occurrence due to its low temperatures, high winds, and low visibility.
Deadly blizzards highlight the need for meteorologists to offer precise measurements of the atmosphere and timely warnings to the public.
But to understand more about blizzards, it is important to know how to classify them.
Really, what type of natural disaster is a blizzard? Is it really natural?
A blizzard can be considered a natural disaster because of the interruption, damage, and possible danger it poses to human life and property
How Do You Define a Natural Disaster?
The term “natural disaster” refers to any catastrophic occurrence that occurs as a direct result of Earth’s natural processes.
To be considered a “disaster,” it should result in widespread destruction, loss of life, or property damage.
Natural disasters can take many forms, such as quakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, volcanoes, and wildfires.
These catastrophes frequently strike with little to no warning, putting a strain on infrastructure.
Now, considering the devastation a blizzard can cause, would it be right to put it in the category of a natural disaster?
Understanding More about a Blizzard
A blizzard is a type of atmospheric natural disaster that affects a large number of people all over the world.
It is common to see blizzards striking during the winter months, but they can occur any time of the year.
Essentially, blizzards are extremely powerful snowstorms that linger for many hours or more and are characterized by limited visibility and high, sustained winds.
Blizzards are so large that their effects can be felt hundreds, or even thousands, of kilometers away.
Fact: A ground blizzard is a weather situation in which there is no accumulation of snow, yet snowflakes from the ground are lifted and blown by strong winds.
Different Definitions in Different Countries
When figuring out what blizzards truly are, it is natural to see different definitions from different sources.
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology defines a blizzard as a very cold wind loaded with snow, with some part of it rising from the snow-covered ground.
According to Environment Canada, a blizzard is a storm with sustained winds of more than 40 km/hour with 400 meters or less visibility due to blowing snow, snowfall, or a mix of the two.
According to the US National Weather Service, a blizzard differs from a snowstorm not in terms of snowfall but in terms of wind speed.
They defined blizzards as intense snowstorms with high winds and blowing snow that reduces visibility to zero.
Understanding The Effects of Blizzards
Blizzards can affect people and the land in many different ways.
For instance, frostbite is a major issue, which causes the affected limb to become black and often requires amputation.
Similarly, you may lose power during a blizzard, which is pretty common as well, and if you are not already prepared, it can cause you to face all sorts of issues.
Moreover, becoming “Snow Bound” and not being able to leave your home to find food, etc., could also be the result of blizzards.
Fact: The Great Appalachian Storm of 1950 claimed the lives of more than 350 people in Canada and the U.S.
Is a Blizzard a Natural Disaster or Not?
Yes, a blizzard is a natural disaster.
The Northeast Blizzard fits the criteria for a natural disaster under most standards.
Travel insurance policies typically cover natural disasters, often defined as:
- Volcanic eruptions
- … and blizzards
If you consider that, you can definitely call a blizzard a natural disaster.
How Meteorologists Classify Blizzards
Meteorologists always pay attention to the US National Weather Service’s winter weather watch, advisory, and warning system to keep tabs on varying atmospheric conditions.
This information helps them classify those conditions as snowstorms, typical winter weather, or severe blizzards.
Meteorologists cannot classify a winter storm as a snowstorm unless the air temperature near the ground and high in the atmosphere is below freezing point (0C).
The air temperature both high in the atmosphere and close to the ground must be below 0°C (32°F) for meteorologists to label a winter storm as a blizzard.
An Important Consideration
Snowflakes can only develop when enough moisture is in the air to condense into crystals.
Short-lived snowstorms (usually less than a few hours) can nonetheless generate dangerously high snow accumulations.
Are Blizzards Snowstorms?
Blizzards are a more extreme category of a snowstorm that require a few more criteria to be met.
A blizzard is an intense snowstorm lasting at least three hours and producing significant snowfall.
Wind speeds in excess of 56 kilometers per hour are also characteristic of blizzards.
A great deal of snow is blown around by these winds, both high in the air and close to the ground, making it difficult to see.
If snowfall makes it difficult to view an object more than 0.4 kilometers (0.25 miles) distant, meteorologists will proclaim blizzard conditions.
Fact: Rochester, New York receives the most annual snowfall in the United States and is frequently hit by the country's most severe blizzards.
Similarities between Blizzards and Other Natural Disasters
Blizzards are considered natural disasters because they have several features in common with other natural disasters including hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods.
No Prior Warnings
One of the major similarities between blizzards and other natural disasters is that they can strike with little or no notice and cause enormous destruction in their path.
Blizzards and other natural disasters can have serious repercussions for society and the environment, such as destruction of property, loss of life, and interruption of basic services.
Just like other natural disasters, local, national, and international organizations typically need to work together to respond to and recover from blizzards.
Finally, climate change is a growing concern for disaster preparedness and management as it contributes to the frequency and severity of many natural disasters.
This includes blizzards.
Reducing the risks and impacts of these catastrophic events requires adaptation measures and public awareness efforts.
What are Some Examples of Blizzards?
To better understand what a blizzard is and how meteorologists classify it, you need to learn a bit from real examples:
The Great Blizzard
Between March 11 and 14, 1888, the Great Blizzard occurred, making it the most well-known blizzard in history.
The eastern United States was hit by this blizzard, all the way from Maine to Maryland.
Newly expanding cities in New England and New York City came to a grinding standstill when 139 centimeters (55 inches) of snow blanketed the region.
Around one-quarter of the country’s population at the time resided in New England, making the region especially vulnerable to the blizzard’s effects.
Four hundred persons were killed by the storm.
Examples of Blizzards
Recent examples of devastating blizzards include the two that hit the Washington, DC area in 2010.
These storms occurred on February 4-7 and February 9-11.
The first storm started in Pennsylvania and dropped snow all the way to North Carolina. This initial storm dumped anywhere from 25 to 76 centimeters of snow.
In the northeastern United States, the storm affected nearly 45 million people.
A second blizzard hit before these states had fully recovered from the first.
Snowfall totals from the new storm ranged from 15 to 38 in the Washington, D.C. metro area, with neighboring Maryland reporting nearly 60 centimeters on top of the snow that had already fallen.
Tips for Staying Safe in a Blizzard
As you may have gathered, things can quickly become dangerous when up against a blizzard.
Therefore, you need to learn ways to stay safe in a blizzard.
Here are few things to remember:
- Listen to the news to get the heads-up on winter storms or blizzard warnings.
- Be prepared for the possibility of power outage.
- Keep candles, flashlights, batteries, and a portable phone around.
- Prepare your medication bag to deal with any medical emergency.
- Stock up on bread, peanut butter, cereals, and canned goods.
Fact: A weather advice implies you should be on the lookout for potentially dangerous weather, while a watch says you should start making preparations now.
Is a blizzard a natural disaster?
Yes, blizzards are usually classified as natural disasters.
Even if you check with insurance companies, you will see that they include blizzards under the category of “natural disasters.”
While different organizations define blizzards differently, they all can prove devastating.
That is why it is important to not ignore any warnings and prepare yourself to stay safe during a blizzard.