Blizzard Facts

This lesson will discuss WINTER STORMS and Blizzard Facts.


  • Blizzard Facts
  • What they are
  • How they are classified
  • The dangers associated with them
  • How to determine your RISK Level of them

What causes Winter Storms?


Here is some information regarding winter storms and blizzard facts. Winter storms can take many forms: Blizzards, Heavy Snow Storms and Ice Storms.  Winter storms usually form when two air masses of different temperatures and moisture levels interact.   For snow or ice to form in this interaction, the air must have a temperature that is below freezing 32OF at all of the elevations.  The largest producers of snow and ice are the air masses that have COLD, DRY air coming down from the North, usually from Canada, interacting with the WARM, MOIST air coming up from the South, usually the Gulf of Mexico.

Weather-Patterns-Page--OptimizedThis interaction of these two air masses is called a FRONT.  Remember the discussion about “Vertical Air Movement” in the Basics of Our Weather: Module?   If the cold dry air mass is situated at a higher elevation than the warm moist air mass, then you have the recipe for a Major Snow or Ice Storm along with High Winds.

If these air masses are slow moving, these winter storms can last for several days.  Some of these Winter Storms can be very large in size and cover several states.  These storms can trap people in their homes for long periods of time (days and even weeks) without utilities to supply heat for warmth or cooking.  This is all happening during a time when the temperatures outside are freezing and when they need the heat the most.   Repair work to the damaged utilities system may take weeks or months to fix.

SIDE NOTE: FAST moving storms are associated with SMALL storms, while SLOW moving storms are associated with BIG Storms.
The severity of a winter storm is mostly a regional classification and is more associated with what your experience levels are and what you are accustomed to dealing with.   Someone in South Carolina seeing 3” of snow may feel that’s a major snow storm.  While someone from Buffalo may look at it as an inconvenience.Winter storms are more prevalent in the northern parts of the country and in higher elevations.  But recently, we have been seeing snow and ice storms hit further south.

March 12 – 14, 1993 “Storm of the Century”.  The March Blizzard. 

  • This Superstorm impacted the entire Atlantic Seaboard, the Gulf Coast and the Ohio Valley area reaching all of the way north into Canada.
  • This storm was so huge that at one point in the storm, the front reached from Canada down to Cuba.
  • The peak wind gust for this storm was reported at 144 mph.
  • Snow fall was reported in Mount Mitchell, NC of 50”. YES – in North Carolina.
  • Alabama had 13” of snow with temperatures down to 2O
  • A Storm Surge of 11 feet hit the coast of Florida.
  • Number of people who were affected by this storm: Approximately 130 million.
  • The death toll from this storm was 243 people.
  • The damage cost associated with this storm was in excess of $2 billion.
  • The weather forecasters predicted this storm, both the track and intensity of it, 5 days before it hit.

January 29, 2014  Snow Storm.

  • A snow storm hit the southeast stretching from Texas through Georgia and up into the Carolinas.
  • Several roads were shut down causing many people to be stranded in their cars.
  • School buses were stranded on the closed roads causing school children to spend the night in their bus.
  • Many people had to spend the night where they work or where they were when the storm hit; sleeping on store floors or on their desks at work.
  • The National Guard was called out to help stranded motorists and to get food and water to them.
  • The National Weather Service issued a Winter Storm Watch for central Georgia at 3:12pm on January 26, 2014. Three days before the storm hit.

Preparing for Winter Storms


The good news is; you will usually have adequate warning when a Winter Storm is heading your way.

The bad news is:  You MUST BE PREPARED for Winter Storms.   Well, it’s not really bad news – just wanted to get your attention about preparing for Winter Storms.  Hope I did.

The most common response to a winter storm is to “Shelter-In-Place”.  Evacuation from a large winter storm may not be practical because all of the surrounding states (several of them) may be just as impacted as your area.  Plus travel can be very difficult – if not impossible.

So it is imperative that you make your home as livable and survivable the best way you can – before any storms hit.

The minimum you will need to address while “Sheltering-in-Place during a Winter Storm is:

  • Be able to heat your house.
  • Be able to heat your food.
  • Have a sufficient amount of food stored SAFELY.
  • Be able to take care of personal hygiene.
  • Have the correct protective clothing in case you need to go outside.
  • Make sure you have an emergency radio handy to monitor the situation .


Winter-Storm-Page-Our-House-OptimizedA very dangerous situation can happen when the heavy snow fall traps people in their car. Having a Winter Survival Kit in your car can be a life saver.  If a person is not prepared, he may make a bad decision, get out of his car and try walking.  This can be a deadly decision. In “White Out” Conditions, you can lose sight of your car within a few feet.  Your car may be the only shelter around. So, don’t leave it.


Some Winter Weather Definitions:


Advisories: Used to alert people that weather conditions may be getting worse.

Watches:  Usually issued 24 to 48 hours in advance of the event.  Intended to provide enough advanced warning so people can adjust their plans.

Warnings:  Alert the public that travel may become impossible or possible threats to life and property. Usually issued for 12 hours – but can be longer if necessary.

Blizzard Facts:  A snow storm with very heavy falling or blowing snow, winds in excess of 35 mph and visibility less than ¼ mile for at least 3 hours.  These are the most dangerous of Winter Storms, especially severe when temperatures drop below 10OF.


Wind Chill:  The amount of cooling one “Feels” due to the combination of wind and temperature.   The higher the wind – the colder you feel.  The National Weather Service has put together a very good brochure about Wind Chill.  Click the button to download a copy.  NWS: Wind Chill Brochure

Wind Chill Warning:  Life threatening cold with wind chill temperatures computed to be -40 degrees [or less] for at least 3 hours. Exposure to this combination of strong winds and low temperatures without protective clothing will quickly lead to frostbite and/or hypothermia. Longer exposures can be fatal.

Winter Weather Advisory:  Issued for a combination of snow, sleet, and/or freezing rain. Advisories, in general, are issued for weather conditions that are expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous.   These situations are normally not life threatening if caution is exercised.

Winter Storm Outlook:  A chance of a winter storm forming in the next 3 to 5 days.

Winter Storm Watch:  Possible hazardous winter weather due to various elements such as heavy snow, sleet, or ice accumulation from freezing rain.  Issued at least 12 hours before the hazardous winter weather is expected to begin

Winter Storm Warning:  A dangerous combination of heavy snow, with sleet and/or freezing rain, will occur or has a high probability of occurring within the next 12 hours.

  The Dangers Associated with Winter Storms:


Hypothermia occurs when the body has been exposed to prolonged cold. The onset of hypothermia occurs when the body temperature starts to drop below 95°F.  If you need to go outside – make sure you have the proper clothing.

Frostbite results from prolonged exposure to very cold air. Injury is caused by freezing body tissue; the fingers, toes, nose and ears are the most susceptible to frostbite.  If you need to be outside – make sure you are dressed appropriately.

Wind Chill as described above in the Definitions Section above.

Trapped in your car due to heavy snow closing a road and not being prepared.  Very dangerous – leaving your car and attempting to walk to safety.

Avalanches caused by the heavy accumulations of snow and ice in mountain areas.  If you live in mountainous areas that are prone to avalanches – be alert.

Landslides / Mudslides can form on hills and on the sides of mountains as the snow starts melting.

Ice formation on roads can make driving very dangerous.  Traffic accidents are a major problem with Winter Road Conditions.  Ice forming on electric lines and tree branches can make them snap causing power outages.

If you have a power outage and use alternative sources of fuel to heat and cook inside your house, apartment, condominium, etc.  Without proper ventilation, you may have a buildup of Carbon Monoxide.  Carbon Monoxide is an odorless and colorless gas  that is the leading cause of fatal poisoning in the United States.  You should have both Smoke Detectors and Carbon Monoxide Detectors in your house year round.  There is no excuse not to have them.   They have been proven many times to save lives.

Flooding after the snow starts to melt.  Depending upon the melt rate, the area may not be able to drain at a sufficient rate and may cause flooding.  Also, an ice dam may form downstream from you in a river (or even a stream) that may cause flooding for your location.  Review the module on FLOODS to learn more about this disaster type.

Structure / Roof collapse from the weight of the snow.  This problem may persist well after the snow  storm has ended.  If you have a lot of snow on your roof and then a rain storm comes by – the snow acts like a sponge and holds the water rather than allowing it to drain.  This can cause huge amounts of weight to develop on roofs, causing them to collapse.

Frozen Pipes: The intense cold associated with Winter Storms can freeze pipes.  When a pipe freezes, there is a good chance that it will burst.  Remember that a frozen pipe doesn’t have to happen only in your own house in order to impact you.  Frozen pipes can also happen at municipal buildings, utilities, and other support agencies.  If this does happen, it could cause a disruption in services (electricity, water, etc).  Constantly monitor the water pipes and lines in your house during the winter time and be on the lookout for any evidence of freezing.  Also be aware of the impact a frozen pipe may have on your utility services.

Heart attacks, pulled muscles, thrown backs, broken bones, sprains – the list can go on when you start factoring in the clean-up process after the Winter Storm.  If you’re not in physical shape to do the clean-up –don’t!  Try to get a contractor or local teenager to do the clean-up.

If you need help and call 911 – the roads may be blocked and the response may take longer than normal.  You need to take this into consideration if you or someone in your household has special needs or special medical equipment that is required.

House Fires caused by dirty fireplace chimneys, improper disposal of fireplace ashes and unattended candles.  If someone is not experienced with alternative heating methods or plans on using the fireplace with a dirty chimney or without a fire screen, they risk a fire starting.  Make sure you know how to operate and use the equipment.  Make sure all of your equipment is in proper working order before the storm happens – not during.

Falling debris caused by ice and snow build up.   You can be out for a walk after the storm to enjoy how pretty the snow makes everything.   Ice and snow build up tree branches, and power lines can cause them to snap and come falling down on you.  I live up in New England.  A falling Tree Branch  that hits and kills a person is called a “Widow Maker”.  Enough said – be careful if you are walking around after the storm.

Remember:  Hundreds of people die every year due to Winter Storms.  Either directly or indirectly related to the storm.  Winter Storms are Killers!


Winter Storm Risk Assessment:


The National Weather Service has put together a very good report “Winter Storms – The Deceptive Killers.”

It will be well worth your while to download the report so that you can keep it as a reference.

Click on this button to download:  NWS – Winter Storms – The Deceptive Killers

The following map comes from that report.  It reports the Average Snow Fall across the United States.  We are going to use it to determine our Risk for Winter Storms.



Just follow the listed sequence below when you are ready to begin.


  1. Referring to the map above – or to the report you downloaded from the NWS site.  Find your approximate location.
  2. Identify the Annual Mean Snowfall in inches using the legend on the left side of the map.
  3. Pull out your Chart: Risk Assessment: Probability of a Natural Disaster Occurring.
  4. Use this Table For Your Risk Assessment for Winter Storms



If you determined that you are in a zone that has an Annual Mean Snowfall of 36.1 to 48.0 Inches, Check Box 4.

If you determined that you are in a zone that has an Annual Mean Snowfall of 3.1 – 6.0 Inches, Check Box 2.

If you are in Hawaii – Check Box 1.




You now have determined your Risk Assessment for Winter Storms.

You are more than half way done.  Good Job!


This is what you should be taking away from this module:


  1. What Winter Storms are.
  2. Blizzard Facts.
  3. How Winter Storms are formed.
  4. Sheltering-In-Place is probably your best survival option.
  5. The minimum you will need to Shelter-In-Place.
  6. Some definitions of commonly used terms associated with Winter Storms.
  7. Dangers associated with Winter Storms.
  8. Calculated your Risk Factor for a Winter Storm.


Congratulations – You just completed another module and are now closer to better protecting your family.

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