Blizzard Watch issued, but what does it really mean?

February 6th, 2013 at 4:55 pm by under Tony's Pinpoint Weather Blog

A Blizzard Watch has been issued for Providence County, Kent County, and Northern Bristol County Massachusetts.  A watch means there is a POTENTIAL for blizzard conditions to exist Friday into Saturday.

So what technically is a blizzard? Here is the official definition from the glossary of the National Weather Service.

“A blizzard means that the following conditions are expected to prevail for a period of 3 hours or longer:

  • Sustained wind or frequent gusts to 35 miles an hour or greater; and
  • Considerable falling and/or blowing snow (i.e., reducing visibility frequently to less than1/4 of a mile) “

So while blizzards tend to be big snowmakers, the actual term has nothing to do with expected accumulations.  It refers more to what the conditions will be like during the storm.  In simple terms, blizzards tend to produce fierce wind gusts, sideways blowing snow, and white out conditions making it very difficult for drivers to see the road (or the car in front of them).  Whether a blizzard produces 6 inches or 2 feet of snow, you do NOT want to be out driving in a blizzard!

So how will this storm stack up to storm’s past?  It has the POTENTIAL to make the top 5 biggest ever, but there is also the POTENTIAL that mixing to rain or sleet could keep it out of the historic category.   We ARE becoming confident that this will be a major storm, record breaking or not. 

The National Weather Service was nice enough to send over this list earlier today; it has the top 10 snowfalls of all time for Providence.  While it is possible to get large snowfalls from storms that are NOT blizzards, most (if not all) of the storms on the list below were actually blizzards.  I did not get a chance to check them all, but a lot of these names are burned into our minds as blizzards, so no research is necessary (Blizzard of ’78, April Fool’s Day Blizzard….etc). –Pete Mangione

February 6-7, 1978     28.6”

January 22-23, 2005   23.4”

January 7-8, 1996    22.8”

February 14-16, 1962    18.9”

February 4, 1961       18.3”

March 31 – April 1,  1997    18.0”

March 3-5,  1960        17.7”

December 5-7,   2003      17.0”

December 19-20,   2009   16.0”

January 27-29,     1943   16.0”

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