CNN – Unless you live in a year-round warm climate and plan to stay there, it’s important to know how winter storms behave, how to avoid and prepare for them, and heaven forbid, what to do in the worst-case scenario.
What’s a blizzard? And why are they so dangerous?
First, not every ol’ winter storm is technically a blizzard.
The National Weather Service says a blizzard must have large amounts of falling snow or blowing snow, winds greater than 35 mph (56 kph) and visibility of less than a quarter mile (0.4 km) for at least three hours. A ground blizzard has no falling snow; instead, it blows around snow that had fallen before the blizzard kicked up.
Any weather system with below freezing temperatures along with snow and ice can be a safety hazard. Blizzards, however, are one of the most dangerous types of winter storms.
They can lead not only “to perilous driving conditions under low visibility and snow-covered roads, but can also lead to disorientation for anyone walking or driving, resulting in the person not knowing where they are or where they are going,” said Michael Muccilli, meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s NWS, in an email interview with CNN Travel.
“Oftentimes the strong winds and cold temperatures associated with blizzards can produce dangerous wind chills, which can lead to hypothermia and frostbite, especially if stuck outside for extended periods,” he said.
Your first line of defense
Awareness and avoidance are your best weapons against blizzards and other bad winter weather.
If you’re taking a road trip, “begin checking weather conditions about a week in advance of your trip and make sure to check again each day as the weather forecasts become more fine-tuned,” Muccilli said …