It doesn’t need to be snowing hard to have a blizzard

Despite more snow predicted for Thursday, a blizzard warning for southern Wisconsin would be...
Despite more snow predicted for Thursday, a blizzard warning for southern Wisconsin would be more likely on Friday.(Wyoming Highway Patrol)
Published: Dec. 22, 2022 at 11:33 AM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Blizzard warnings reached western Wisconsin on Thursday afternoon. The National Weather Service issued the alerts around noon for areas surrounding Eau Claire and the Dells. That means white out conditions are possible Friday morning and into Christmas Eve.

Counterintuitively, the warnings mainly cover the period after the day in which most of the snow is expected to fall. That’s because it does not need to be snowing to have a blizzard. The type of blizzard that pops into many people’s minds first when they hear that word is when wind gusts hit 35 mph while snow is falling, according to one National Weather Service definition. However, the second definition simply requires blowing snow to drop visibility below a quarter mile.

“The issuance of blizzard warning has nothing to do with how much snow will fall or has already fallen,” NBC15 Meteorologist Amanda Morgan explained. “It’s all about visibility.”

Visibility problems happen most often in rural areas and open roadways, where winds have plenty of space to kick up the snow. In more urban regions, buildings block those winds. The forecasts for the current system call for 4″-7″ inches of snow on Thursday, but it is Friday that the winds sweep in and may reach speeds in the 40-50 mph range.

For starters, those winds will create dangerous wind chills, in the -30° to -40° range. They will also start pushing some of that snow that plows will have spent more than a day clearing back onto the roads and creating deep drifts.

Notably, while snow and Wisconsin go hand in hand, blizzards are not that common in the Badger State. If one were to happen Friday, it would be the first in more than four years (Nov. 26, 2018) and just the seventh in the past two decades.

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