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

  • 5 reasons Amazon is experimenting with physical stores

    Tech & Science CTV News
    NEW YORK -- Is the online giant of retail also looking to conquer physical stores? Amazon has been dabbling in physical retail since 2015, during which time it's opened a half-dozen bookstores that double as gadget emporia, a score of campus bookstores that don't sell books and a convenience store without cashiers. Source
  • Home-made bricks for a habitat on Mars

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Scientists said Thursday that they have manufactured tiny bricks out of artificial Martian soil, anticipating the day when humans may construct colonies on the Red Planet. Remarkably, the technique requires only that the red-hued building blocks be compressed in a precise way -- no additives or baking required. Source
  • Canadian Space Agency gets $80.9 million to develop new technologies

    Tech & Science CBC News
    The federal government is providing $80.9 million over five years to the Canadian Space Agency to help it develop new technologies. The funding, which was already announced in this year's federal budget, will support two projects. Source
  • University of Toronto researchers discover 507-million-year old sea creature

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Insects and other crawlies might not be the most pleasant creatures to some, but they are the most abundant organisms on Earth. Now a 507-million-year-old fossil has been discovered by Canadian researchers that is shedding light on their evolution. Source
  • Can't hack it in high altitudes? It's all about genetics

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Try to walk a mile in a Tibetan person's shoes and you will fail miserably. That's because they have evolved to live at high altitudes better than anyone else on the planet. Just in time for the climbing season to open on Mount Everest, a new study from the University of Texas, Houston, tells us about the genes behind this incredible ability. Source
  • Canadian Space Agency getting $80.9 million for two projects

    Tech & Science CTV News
    LONGUEUIL, Que. -- The federal government is providing $80.9 million over five years to the Canadian Space Agency to help it develop new technologies. The funding, which was already announced in this year's federal budget, will support two projects. Source
  • NASA successfully pilots spacecraft between Saturn and its rings

    Tech & Science CBC News
    NASA announced Thursday morning its Cassini spacecraft was successful in its historic first dive through the gap between Saturn and its rings. The unmanned Cassini is back in radio contact with Earth after entering the gap Wednesday in the first mission of its kind. Source
  • NASA spacecraft completes first-ever dive between Saturn and its rings

    Tech & Science CTV News
    After 13 years in orbit around Saturn, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has completed the first stage of its most daring mission yet – diving into the narrow gap between the planet and its rings. In an update posted online, NASA confirmed that its Deep Space Network Gladstone Complex (DSN) in California’s Mojave Desert made contact with Cassini at 2:56 a.m. Source
  • Science minister considers forcing universities to attract more female research chairs

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Canada's science minister says universities aren't doing the heavy lifting to appoint more female research chairs, so she wants to force their hands. On her way to give a speech Wednesday to Canada's university presidents in Montreal, Kirsty Duncan was handed the latest statistics on the number of men and women among applicants for new Canada Research Chair positions. Source
  • Amazon is adding a camera to its newest Echo smart speaker

    Tech & Science CBC News
    The first versions of its voice activated Echo speakers still haven't been released in Canada, but technology giant Amazon is already unveiling a new model which includes a camera that can take pictures of its surroundings on command. Source