Having an understanding of blizzard conditions can spell the difference between surviving such a winter storm situation and succumbing to its forces. Although blizzards do not carry the same devastatingly destructive power of hurricanes, they can and do affect large expanses of a region as do hurricanes. As with hurricanes, but on a different level, a blizzard can bring death to anyone caught on foot far from shelter. A danger exists as well to motorists stalled and stranded in the center of a blinding blizzard that lasts for days.
Blizzards tend to result under unique patterns of intense weather systems. More often than not, they form when the northern hemisphere jet stream arcs southward far enough to permit cold arctic air to collide with warm air moving north from the southeast tier of states in the United States. This collision may cause tornadoes to develop in the spring southeast of the line of contact; in winter, blizzards northwestward of the line.
A blizzard comprises three distinct features: cold temperatures, high winds and falling or blowing snow. (Not infrequently both blowing and falling snow can prevail in a blizzard associated with especially high wind speeds.) The cold temperatures typically range from twenty degrees above zero on the Fahrenheit scale to zero or considerably lower. The wind can make the temperature feel even colder to unprotected body parts due to the wind chill factor.
The wind at higher speeds also can augment the concentration of snow by adding snow particles picked up from the ground to the snow falling from the sky. The wind-blown snow in a blizzard obviously will reduce visibility to a greater or lesser degree.
Winds at about 35 mph produce a snow screen whereby objects become invisible beyond about 1/4 mile. As wind speed increases, visibility decreases concurrently. At very high wind speeds, over 45 mph, visibility can decrease to zero. In this situation, the blizzard becomes a veritable whiteout, making it impractical, even impossible, for people to move about whether on foot or in automobiles.
Modern meteorological techniques of weather forecasting may not be able to predict blizzards as such, but the weatherman can provide up-to-date information about weather patterns having the characteristics that commonly give rise to them. Often, the storm fronts move slowly across the land. This gives residents of the affected area time to prepare for the onslaught. As the development or approach of blizzard-causing conditions becomes more apparent, it behooves the would-be traveler to take every precaution to avoid getting caught out in one of these extremely dangerous winter storms.