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Blizzard: One of the Most Commonly Confused Weather Terms

By Meghan Evans, Meteorologist
February 08, 2013; 9:30 AM

The word blizzard is thrown around every year by the media when snowstorms hit, but there is a very specific definition.

A blizzard is not just classified by heavily falling snow. In fact, snow does not even need to be falling for a blizzard to be classified.

The exact requirements for a blizzard must last three hours or longer with sustained winds or frequent gusts to 35 mph or greater.

On top of the wind requirements, there must also be considerable falling OR blowing snow, reducing the visibility to less than a quarter of a mile frequently.

"Blizzard conditions often occur on the Plains without any falling snow with a high frequency of strong winds," according to AccuWeather.com Expert Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.

Sometimes blizzard conditions only occur over a small area, but in the cities and towns that are hit travel is brought to a stand still.

Some of the most infamous blizzards include the Blizzard of '78, Blizzard of '93 and Blizzard of '96.

The Blizzard of '78 struck the Midwest, spreading excessive snow across Indiana and Michigan. The death toll climbed to 70 people. Drifts of snow were so high that they reached rooftops with lashing wind gusts of 100 mph.

The Appalachians through the Northeast were clobbered by heavy snow during the Blizzard of '93, as a storm hugged the Atlantic Seaboard. More than 20 inches of snow piled up from the mountains of North Carolina through central Pennsylvania and northern New England.

The major cities of the Northeast were slammed by hefty snow that brought travel to a hault and cancelled school for days during the Blizzard of '96. The following snow totals were recorded: Washington, D.C., 20 inches; Baltimore, 27 inches; Philadelphia, 31 inches; New York City, 21 inches; Boston, 19 inches.

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