Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Blizzard Without Snowfall? Huh?!

I'm constantly amazed by the sheer volume of things that I don't know.

These are things that aren't exactly rocket science.  You don't need a degree to obtain this information. These are simply things that you learn while you go through life.  I mean, I have the basics down:

  • Snowballs are cold.
  • Bodies are kind of bouncy.
  • Force is equal to the mass of an object times its acceleration.

This is all simple.

But sometimes the environment that you live in is very different from what you've always known.  When that happens, the result is a mixture of confusion, excitement, humility, and wonder.

Holy crap!  
There doesn't need to be snow falling from the sky to have a blizzard!!!

Yeah, that one made my head spin.

We had a blizzard last night... without snowfall.

Those of you that live in snowy regions are shaking your heads and softly chuckling at me, I'm sure, but my dear friends in the deserts and tropics are totally sympathetic.  We grew up in a world where our blizzards all came from books and movies.

This means that we all learned that the following three things are necessary in order to have a blizzard:

  1. Heavy snowfall: Preferably large flakes that immediately stick to eyebrows
  2. High winds: The winds must cause a person to stumble repeatedly and lose their way
  3. A Grumpy Mountain Man:  Somebody has to save you from this mess, after all

You can imagine my surprise, then, when no snow was falling from the sky, yet my weather app was telling me that we had dangerous blizzard conditions that would remain in effect over the next few days.


Ok, so here's what I learned when I got to my computer to check it out. In the real world:
  1. Wind chill must be below -15.  (We were at -30)
  2. The winds themselves must be higher than 35mph, and they must be sustained, rather than gusts. (Totally had that)
  3. There must be snow blowing. (The air was white)
So, yep.  It was a blizzard.  

Specifically, it was what is called a ground blizzard.  A ground blizzard occurs when loose snow on the ground  is lifted by the winds.  

In my case, a hard, crusty outer layer of snow that had been sitting there for a while had winds blowing across it for long enough that it started to break apart.  The snow beneath the crusty layer was much, much finer, and so as the outer layer was broken down, the fine stuff started to fly out, creating the solid white mass of nastiness in the air.

And there was no grumpy mountain man to save me from it.  I checked.

So I stayed inside where it was safe.  Evidently, people have been lost simply walking from their homes to their cars.  I'm assuming they had to walk a bit of a distance, but still... that's pretty creepy.

It's amazing what kind of things you don't know until you have a chance to live through them, huh?

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