While some people do everything they can to avoid having to deal with snow, others do whatever it takes to catch a glimpse of the white, fluffy stuff as it hits the ground. While a normal snowstorm can actually be quite pretty, navigating your way through blizzard conditions is a completely different story.
But what is a blizzard? A blizzard is a severe snowstorm that is usually accompanied by incredibly low temperatures, heavy snow, and strong winds that blow the snow with it. The winds are usually around 35 mph (56 km/h) or higher and leave those out on the roads with a visibility level of less than 500 feet. If these conditions last for at least 3 hours the storm is usually considered a blizzard.
There have been some incredibly dense blizzards throughout history. Here are a few of the most notable:
The Great Blizzard of 1888
Too far in the past for most of us to remember, the Great Blizzard of 1888 has earned a reputation for being one of the most notable blizzards in history. Impacting the states of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, more than 40-50 inches (or 102 -127 centimeters) of snow fell during the days between March 11th and March 14th.
The storm started out with heavy rains and, as temperatures dropped, the storm turned to snow. Wind gusts measured around 45 mph (72 km/h) and the snowdrifts caused by blowing snow over houses and on the sides of some buildings were as high as 50 feet tall. The storm had a paralyzing effect on business up and down the northern half of the east coast. Railroads were shut down, the telegraph systems were brought to a halt, and people were stuck in their homes and New York City hotels for up to a week at a time.
The Schoolhouse Blizzard
The Schoolhouse Blizzard was another incredible storm in 1888, although it occurred in January of that year. The storm was so surprising because on the day it began, January 11th, the temperatures were a little bit warm – a welcome surprise after another snowstorm just days earlier. The warm weather led people to leave their homes to run errands, go to school, and do chores.
A storm system came down from Canada and dropped into the northeastern section of Colorado. The fast-moving storm passed through North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and Wisconsin over a period of two days, during which time the temperature dropped as low as -20 degrees Fahrenheit (-28 Celsius). Dozens of people, including children in one-room schoolhouses, were trapped in the storm.
In Nebraska, a teacher by the name of Lois Royce in her schoolhouse when they ran out of fuel at the early hour of 3pm. She tried to take the kids to her boarding house but the nonexistent visibility make it difficult to see and they got lost. The children froze to death and Lois had to have her feet amputated.
Minnie Freeman’s students in Mira Valley, Nebraska, were a bit luckier. She successfully led all 13 to her own boarding house and they all survived. In Holt County, Nebraska, on the other hand, a woman named Etta Shattuck got lost and tried to hide in a haystack for warmth. She was found three days later but died after the surgery to remove her frostbite.
All in all, more than 500 people across the affected states were killed during the Schoolhouse Blizzard. Most died from hypothermia.
The Halloween Blizzard
The Halloween Blizzard affected some of the Upper Midwest states in the United States between October 31st and November 3rd, 1991. A storm in the Atlantic Ocean was affecting the eastern United States and allowed weather from the Gulf of Mexico to funnel straight towards the Midwest. Parts of northern Minnesota and Wisconsin received heavy snow accumulation while parts of southern Minnesota received an ice storm of epic proportions.
The areas hit by snow received anywhere from 1-2 feet of snow while some areas received a little bit more. Parts of southern Minnesota and Iowa located south of I-90 received a major ice storm, with some areas experiencing receiving ice measuring 2-3 inches thick before it was topped with snow. The Halloween Blizzard caused almost $70 million in damages, between power lines, buildings, and lost crops. More than 100 people were injured during this storm and 22 people were killed.
Snowstorms are amazing but can be as deadly as any other form of bad weather. Proceed with caution the next time the weatherman predicts a deep snowstorm. Stay inside, and stay warm!