How do Blizzards Form, and Why are They so Dangerous?

snow blizzard on the highway with truck
© Vitaliy Kaplin/

Written by Marisa Wilson

Updated: December 28, 2022

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When most people think of blizzards, they imagine a severe winter storm with snow and high winds. But there are different types of blizzards, and each can cause different levels of damage. Knowing what to expect and how to prepare for a blizzard is essential, and by understanding the different types of blizzards, you can be better prepared for the next one that hits your area. Ultimately, though, understanding how blizzards form will better help you understand why they’re so dangerous.

Blizzard in New York City

A blizzard can turn dangerous quickly. Understanding how blizzards form and knowing how to react are imperative for your safety.


Blizzards are severe winter storms that usually form when cold air from the poles meets warm, moist air from the equator. They are especially dangerous owing to their ability to cause frostbite, heart attacks, hypothermia, and an increased risk of accidents. 

Blizzards and snowstorms may appear similar at first glance, but the two have several key differences. One significant distinction is the strength of the wind. For a storm to be classified as a blizzard, the current must reach speeds of at least 35 miles per hour. This high level of wind can cause widespread damage and disruptions, making it difficult for people to travel or even venture outside. 

On the other hand, snow storms typically have lower wind speeds ranging from 20-30 miles per hour. While still capable of causing some problems, these winds are not as destructive as those associated with a blizzard. Another difference between these two types of storms is the amount of snowfall. 

Blizzards produce more significant amounts of snow, often accumulating several inches. On the other hand, snow storms typically only result in a few inches of accumulation. Finally, blizzards cause more visibility problems than a regular snowstorm. As a result, it’s crucial to be aware of the potential dangers of each type of storm.

Main Types of Blizzards and How They Form

There are three types of blizzards, and each one can be quite different. What kind of blizzard can surprise us in winter? The three types of blizzards are ground blizzards, nor’easter, and the lake effect.

A Nor’easter is a blizzard that spins counterclockwise, and this is due to the Coriolis effect. The Coriolis effect is due to the Earth’s rotation and how it affects weather patterns and ocean currents. It makes storms swirl in different directions depending on which part of the hemisphere it takes place in. Storms spin clockwise in the Southern and counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere. A Nor’easter can cause severe flooding due to bringing heavy rain or snow.

A Lake Effect Blizzard is a rare occurrence. This type of blizzard is a snowstorm that occurs when cold air moves across a large body of water, picking up moisture and creating conditions conducive to heavy snowfall. These storms typically start in Canada and cross the Great Lakes region of the United States, where they can bring large amounts of snow in a short period. The rate that it falls can exceed 2-3 inches per hour. 

Ground blizzards are a type of winter storm that can significantly impact travel and daily life. They occur when strong winds blow loose snow across the ground, reducing visibility and making it difficult to move around. There are three types of ground blizzards: vertical advection, horizontal advection, and thermal-mechanical. 

Vertical advection occurs when air is lifted upwards. It can create a wave of snow measuring hundreds of feet. Horizontal advection occurs when the wind blows the snow across and not as high up as vertical advection. Thermal mechanical blizzards occur when vertical and horizontal advection occurs, this is the rarest of the ground blizzards. All three types of ground blizzards can significantly impact travel and daily life. 

Why are they so dangerous? 

Blizzards are among several different types of dangerous weather events. They can pose a severe threat to public safety. Car accidents are common during blizzards, as icy roads and poor visibility make driving difficult. Pedestrians can be hit by cars or slip on ice. No one should be walking around outside in this because it can be deadly for them. Blizzards can cause hypothermia and frostbite by exposing people to frigid temperatures. Hypothermia is an abnormally low body temperature that can cause death. Frostbite, in severe cases, can cause autoamputation of your affected extremities, such as a finger or toe. 

Carbon monoxide poisoning is a danger associated with blizzards. People try to keep warm by running their generators indoors or sitting in their car using the heater in a closed garage. Heart attacks are also a risk, as shoveling snow is a strenuous activity that can cause people with heart conditions to suffer from an attack.

Blizzards can also cause roofs to collapse under the weight of the snow. This can cause severe damage to homes and businesses. Additionally, blizzards can lead to power outages as iced-over power lines break under the weight of the snow. This can leave people without heat or light for days or even weeks. In some cases, blizzards can also block roads and prevent people from being able to travel. This makes it challenging to get the help they need in an emergency. As you can see, blizzards can be dangerous and cause many problems. As a result, it’s vital to understand the dangers of blizzards and take steps to stay safe during these events.

Preparing for a Blizzard: What You Should Do

The best way to prepare for a snowstorm is to plan, including stocking up on supplies and ensuring your home is ready. A winter storm can be beautiful, but it can also be dangerous and disruptive. That’s why planning and preparing before the weather worsens is essential. Here are a few things to get ready for a snowstorm:

  • Check the weatherstripping around your house to ensure no gaps that could let in cold air. Make sure to replace any that are worn out. This will help keep everything insulated and warmer.
  • Bring in any extra firewood if the power goes out to keep your fireplace going. Ensure you have the means to start the fire, such as a lighter. Some firewood is designed to burn for hours and can make it easier to keep your fire going.
  • Ensure your gutters are clear so the melting snow can drain away from your home. You can also check your roof for damaged shingles to prevent water from leaking into your home. Check the windows to ensure they are sealed and have no cracks.
  • Stock up on non-perishable food and water if you get stranded indoors for a few days. Canned foods and bottled water are effective, but anything that doesn’t require cooking should be adequate. Filling up a few extra water jugs can be helpful for hygienic purposes such as bathing and brushing your teeth. Pets need these supplies too!
  • Medical supplies should be restocked in case of emergencies. Bandages and wound ointments are a priority. You should also check your medicine supply and get any necessary refills. 
  • A light source is critical, so check your flashlights and replace batteries. Candles can be helpful or battery-operated lanterns. By taking some simple precautions, you can weather any snowstorm with ease.


A winter storm can be beautiful, but it can also be dangerous and disruptive. No one wants to be caught unprepared for a winter storm. That’s why planning and preparing before the weather worsens is essential. 

Despite all the dangers, people often underestimate the power of a blizzard. Make sure you plan what to do if you lose power or heat and keep your car stocked with supplies if you get stranded. 

Most importantly, stay safe and don’t take unnecessary risks during a blizzard. Have food and water supplies stocked up, as well as other necessary items like medications and pet food. 

By following the tips we’ve outlined, you can ensure your home is ready and that you have all the supplies you need in case of bad weather. Stay safe during snowstorms by being prepared!

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About the Author

Creepy-crawly creatures enthrall Marisa. Aside from raising caterpillars, she has a collection of spiders as pets. The brown recluse is her favorite spider of all time. They're just misunderstood. You don't have to worry about squishing the creatures as her catching, and relocating abilities can safely move stray centipedes or snakes to a new location that's not your living room.

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