All blizzards are not created equal

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) —After yesterday’s blizzard many Western New Yorkers were left with questions. Some asked where all the snow is. Others wanted to know what exactly a blizzard is.

It’s easy to get freaked out when you hear the term blizzard being thrown around. Most people assume the worst, which usually takes their mind back to the blizzard of 77 or even the blizzard of 85. But the term blizzard doesn’t always mean you’ll see snow stacking up and houses will be buried. It’s just a way to define a specific combination of weather events happening all at once.

The combination of events you need in order to define a blizzard hasn’t changed over the years although from event to event it may seem very different.

Meteorologist Jeff Wood, from the National Weather Service shared with news 4 what a blizzard can be defined as. He said, “A sustained wind or frequent wind gusts greater than or equal to 35 mph accompanied by falling or blowing snow. Along with that, that has to reduce visibilities to less than a quarter of a mile for at least 3 hours.”

Although the way to qualify a blizzard is the same, Wood says not all blizzards are created equal. He stated, “There is some baggage from the blizzard of 77. Obviously what we saw in that scenario was certainly a blizzard and it was an extreme blizzard.”

January 2nd’s blizzard in Buffalo was not as intense. But what was the difference? Wood says, “We did have very strong winds blowing off the lake, similar to the blizzard of 77, but in this case, the lake was not frozen so we didn’t have a lot of snow on the lake but we did have an area of lake effect snow that added to the snow that was already on the ground in the area.”

The combination of that, plus the snow that has fallen over the last couple of weeks, and strong winds created those localized blizzard conditions. The bitter cold that we’ve been experiencing also did not help, Wood said, “Typically we kind of go up and down within a few degrees of freezing, so a lot of times the snow that is on the ground if there is still snow on the ground it has the opportunity to stick together through freezing and thawing. It’s been such a prolonged period of cold that a lot of that snow is still sitting loose on the ground.”

Wood says it’s unusual for blizzard warnings to be issued in this part of the state. In the last 6 years he’s been working in the buffalo office, he’s only seen 3 warnings issued. One was on January 6, 2014, the second was March 12th of 2014 and the last was yesterday.

According to the definition, northern Erie County experienced blizzard conditions from 12:54 in the afternoon through 4:54 in the evening. After that, although it was technically not a blizzard any longer, visibility stayed reduced for a lot of the night. Eventually the warnings were cancelled a little after 6:30PM.

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