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What Is A Blizzard?

By Jane Whitmore - | Feb 25, 2021

The word “blizzard” is the creation of a newspaper editor in Estherville, O.C. Bates, who made it up to describe a late snow storm in 1871.

State Representative Megan Jones included this bit of information in her newsletter last week. Out of curiosity, and in search of a definition for the word, we turned to our friends at Wikipedia. They did not happen to include Bates’ name in any description of the word blizzard, but offered this definition:

A blizzard is a severe snowstorm characterized by strong sustained winds of at least 56 km/h (35 mph) and lasting for a prolonged period of time–typically three hours or more. 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.

In the United States, the National Weather Service defines a blizzard as a severe snow storm characterized by strong winds causing blowing snow that results in low visibilities. The difference between a blizzard and a snowstorm is the strength of the wind, not the amount of snow. To be a blizzard, a snow storm must have sustained winds or frequent gusts that are greater than or equal to 56 km/h (35 mph) with blowing or drifting snow which reduces visibility to 400 m or 0.25 mi or less and must last for a prolonged period of time–typically three hours or more.

The Oxford English Dictionary concludes the term blizzard is likely onomatopoeic, derived from the same sense as blow, blast, blister, and bluster; the first recorded use of it for weather dates to 1829, when it was defined as a “violent blow”. It achieved its modern definition by 1859, when it was in use in the western United States. The term became common in the press during the harsh winter of 1880-81.

Wikipedia gives us a glimpse into the Storm of the Century in 1993:

The Storm of the Century, also known as the Great Blizzard of 1993, was a large cyclonic storm that formed over the Gulf of Mexico on March 12, 1993, and dissipated in the North Atlantic Ocean on March 15. It is unique for its intensity, massive size and wide-reaching effect. At its height, the storm stretched from Canada towards Central America, but its main impact was on the United States and Cuba. The cyclone moved through the Gulf of Mexico, and then through the Eastern United States before moving into Canada. Areas as far south as northern Alabama and Georgia received a dusting of snow and areas such as Birmingham, Alabama, received up to 12 in (30 cm) with hurricane-force wind gusts and record low barometric pressures. Between Louisiana and Cuba, hurricane-force winds produced high storm surges across northwestern Florida, which along with scattered tornadoes killed dozens of people. In the United States, the storm was responsible for the loss of electric power to over 10 million customers. It is purported to have been directly experienced by nearly 40 percent of the country’s population at that time. A total of 310 people, including 10 from Cuba, perished during this storm. The storm cost $6 to $10 billion in damages.

We wonder where this month’s winter storms and sub-zero temperatures will rank in history. You know, the one where we existed for days with temperatures well below zero. And the one that left the majority of the state of Texas without power and water after ice and snow helped bring that state to a standstill. The storm cost in Texas alone no doubt could exceed the cost the Storm of the Century in 1993. We’ll wait and see how that turns out.

The six-inch snowfall (by some estimates) from this past weekend was wet and heavy. City crews were out clearing streets on Sunday afternoon. Monday and Tuesday, the snow was bring hauled away to the dumping spot. Truck load after truck load went through town, as the crew worked to get the snow off the streets. Thanks, guys, we appreciate your hard work.

Here’s some good news/bad news: The good news is we have warmer temperatures that will promote melting. The bad news is, the melted snow turns to ice during the night. The news alert for everyone is: watch where you walk so you don’t take a tumble.