How the U.S. snowstorm grew so big and whether it's considered a blizzard

KENSINGTON, Md. - Oh, the weather outside is frightful. Winds will soon turn spiteful. The East has no place to go.

See Full Article

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

The massive snowstorm promising more than 30 centimetres of snow for a wide swath of the eastern U.S. is all people can talk about. But is it a blizzard? And how did it get so big? Just like the snow, questions pile up. Here are some answers.

Q: Is there a difference between a snowstorm and a blizzard?

A: Yes. The National Weather Service says a snowstorm becomes a blizzard when it meets a couple of conditions for at least three hours: Sustained wind or gusts of 56 kph or greater, and heavy falling and blowing snow, the type that reduces visibility to less than 400 metres.

Q: Why is this snowstorm so big?

A: This blizzard is a case of all the normal ingredients in a big snowstorm coming together. A storm system travelled from the Pacific along a strong jet stream and picked up warm moisture from the Gulf Coast and off the East Coast to stoke the precipitation content. Cold air from the north made that come down as snow, but it wasn't too cold because that would limit a storm. Add to that low atmospheric pressure to the south and high atmospheric pressure to the north, and that means high winds. High winds mean blizzard conditions. It's moving slow, and that means the snow piles up. Instead of being done snowing in 12 hours it can go 36 hours -- and that can mean three times the snow.

Q: What about El Nino or global warming? Did they play a role?

A: While both are still affecting Earth's climate and its weather, most meteorologists who talked to The Associated Press downplayed those as factors in this storm.

Q: Is this a record?

A: It's too early to tell. First, it has to stop snowing. And it may be difficult to measure because the high winds are causing snowdrifts. But meteorologists say this is likely to be in the top three for Washington, though it won't be so high-ranking in the context of the greater East Coast. Washington's biggest three-day snowfall at Reagan National Airport was 71 centimetres in 1922. Baltimore's was 68.1 in 2003. Central Park in New York City had its biggest snowfall of 68.3 inches in 2006.

Q: Do they rate snowstorms like they do hurricanes and tornadoes?

A: Yes, they do, but only after the fact. It's a rating system called the Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale, and it was created by National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini and winter weather expert Paul Kocin. It is based on how big a storm is and how many people feel it. There's a 1 to 5 scale. Kocin is expecting this storm to be a 4, which is called crippling, but not a 5, which is extreme.

Q: Does this snowstorm have a name?

A: Depends on who you talk to. The Weather Channel names storms and is calling this Jonas, but federal meteorologists and many others don't accept that private company naming storms. It gets unofficial nicknames, though. The Washington Post's "Capital Weather Gang" had a contest and is calling this Snowzilla. Other names bandied about include SnOMG.



Advertisements

Latest Tech & Science News

  • Make way, beaver and gray jay: New contest seeks 'Canada's greatest animal'

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Will it be the prowling grey wolf with its haunting moonlight howl? Or maybe the great grey owl with its piercing know-it-all stare? What about the graceful whooping crane with its impressive wingspan? These distinctly Canadian animals, dubbed the “Eh! Team” by the Calgary Zoo, are all in the running to become “Canada’s Greatest Animal” in a new online contest. Source
  • Google unveils Android O with developer preview

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Google has unveiled Android O, the latest iteration of the firm's mobile operating system, with a preview version released for developers. The developers' OS showcases several major changes in store, ahead of the system's official presentation at the Google I/O conference in May. Source
  • Let there be light: German scientists test 'artificial sun'

    Tech & Science CTV News
    BERLIN -- Scientists in Germany flipped the switch Thursday on what's being described as "the world's largest artificial sun" and which they hope will help shed light on new ways of making climate-friendly fuel. The giant honeycomb-like setup of 149 spotlights -- officially known as "Synlight" -- in Juelich, about 30 kilometres west of Cologne, uses xenon short-arc lamps normally found in cinemas to simulate natural sunlight that's often in short supply in Germany at this time of year. Source
  • California races nature, clock to make key dam repairs

    Tech & Science CTV News
    SAN FRANCISCO -- California is not just fighting nature as it attempts to repair the damaged main spillway at the nation's tallest dam, pounded last month by surging storm waters. It's also racing the clock. Source
  • Indonesia survey shows massive coral death from cruise ship

    Tech & Science CTV News
    JAKARTA, Indonesia - Indonesia says nearly 19,000 square metres of coral reef was damaged by a foreign cruise ship that ran aground in the pristine waters of Raja Ampat in West Papua province earlier this month. Source
  • Ground-breaking bat cave discovery gives Alberta researchers baseline in fight against deadly disease

    Tech & Science CBC News
    The recent discovery of a large cave or hibernacula in northern Alberta where hundreds of bats have found hibernating is giving researchers a baseline measurement in the fight against the deadly white-nose syndrome. "Up until now, within the bulk of Alberta, the large hibernacula we have found are in the Rocky Mountains, so it's nice to find that this is the third-largest known hibernacula in the province," Dave Critchley of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Bat Caver program told The…
  • Groundbreaking bat cave discovery gives Alberta researchers baseline in fight against deadly disease

    Tech & Science CBC News
    The recent discovery of a large cave or hibernacula in northern Alberta where hundreds of bats have found hibernating is giving researchers a baseline measurement in the fight against the deadly white-nose syndrome. "Up until now, within the bulk of Alberta, the large hibernacula we have found are in the Rocky Mountains, so it's nice to find that this is the third-largest known hibernacula in the province," Dave Critchley of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Bat Caver program told The…
  • New wintertime low for Arctic sea ice: scientists

    Tech & Science CBC News
    The extent of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean has set a new record low for the wintertime in a region strongly affected by long-term trends of global warming, U.S. and European scientists said on Wednesday. Source
  • New categories of dinosaur family tree proposed by scientists

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Some of the best-known dinosaurs, like Tyrannosaurus rex and Brontosaurus, may be headed for a divorce due to irreconcilable differences. Scientists on Wednesday proposed a radical overhaul of the dinosaur family tree first laid out in 1888, concluding after an analysis of 75 species that the meat-eating group that includes T. Source
  • Lip-reading program more accurate than humans could help hearing-impaired

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Lip-reading is a notoriously tricky task. But researchers at the University of Oxford in the U.K. have created a computer program called Watch, Attend and Spell to do just that. They claim their lip-reading algorithm is more accurate than human professionals. Source