Sometimes the terms are used interchangeably, but there is a difference between a blizzard and a snowstorm.
The definition of a blizzard is when visibility is reduced to one-quarter of a mile and the winds are 35 mph or more. The storm also must last at least 3 hours. If any of these specific conditions is not met, then it is a snowstorm instead.
In a BestLife online article, James Bria, certified consulting meteorologist, senior forensic weather expert, and forecast operations manager at CompuWeather, Inc., explained that a snowstorm doesn’t necessarily mean that a storm is occurring—just the act of snow falling means there’s a snowstorm. And, it’s possible to have blizzard conditions without snow.
According to Bria, a snow-less blizzard “tends to happen more often in wide-open, flat landscapes with little vegetation, like the Great Plains.”
“With winds as strong as 35 mph, it is almost impossible to determine if snow is actually falling, or just being blown around by the wind,” Jim Block, chief meteorological officer at DTN, pointed out in the article. “In a blizzard, you can’t tell, and it doesn’t matter.”
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