Snowstorm Preparedness

Snow storm GIF
Maybe it’s time to go inside, Jon.

Snoooooow! I wanna waaaash my hands, my face, and hair with snooooooow. What’s that? You’re not a total maniac? It’s just me? To each their own. We should still get to grips with snowstorms.

Does Cold Weather Always Mean Snow?

No. If that were true, there would be a snowstorm inside your refrigerator. Thankfully, your fridge has a dry climate.

Snow requires cold AND wet weather. You could have -40 °F temps, but if the humidity is low, you likely won’t see any snow. Snow forms when low pressure zones cause wind to move clouds (cyclonic front), supercooling the water droplets within them. If the crystals that form stick together and become heavy, they fall to earth as snow.

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What Happens During a Snowstorm?

Since you already know the words “snow” and “storm,” you have probably guessed by now that a snowstorm is a storm with a great deal of snow. Heavy snowfall is the main requirement, but you’ll also see ice and rain in many snowstorms.

If you like a higher level of danger, a blizzard may be what you’re looking for. Blizzards are snowstorms that are extremely windy, with sustained wind speeds of at least 35 miles an hour. Fun fact: blizzards don’t necessarily have more snowfall than the average snowstorm; they just have more wind. All that snow blowing around makes them extra dangerous due to low visibility, which leads to more car accidents.

City street in a snowstorm

Places in the US That Are Prone to Snowstorms

Who’s at risk? Since some places don’t receive snow, risk varies by location. The states that have the most snowstorms in the US are:

  • New York
  • Massachusetts
  • Connecticut
  • Ohio
  • Wisconsin

Risk also varies city by city within each state. Elevation plays a large part as well, since higher elevations are more likely to receive more snow.

This list shows major US cities (population one million or more) that receive significant snowfall each year. Buffalo has an average of 4.4 days of 5″ snowfall (or more) each year. That’s a lot of snow, and it doesn’t even count the days when they get fewer than 5″ of snow.

CityDays*
Buffalo, New York4.4
Rochester, New York3.9
Boston, Massachusetts3.1
Hartford, Connecticut2.9
Cleveland, Ohio2.5
Milwaukee, Wisconsin2.1
Minneapolis, Minnesota2.1
Salt Lake City, Utah2.1
New York, New York1.9
Providence, Rhode Island1.7
Denver, Colorado1.7
Detroit, Michigan1.7
Chicago, Illinois1.4
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania1.1
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania1.1
*Total days annually on average with 5 inches (12.7 centimeters) or more of snowfall

If your city wasn’t on that list, don’t get too comfortable! Weather patterns are constantly shifting, especially as climate change wreaks havoc on our winter months. If your city is blue in the chart below, your risk for a big snowstorm is increasing.

snowstorm preparedness
Change in Total Snowfall in the Contiguous 48 States, 1930–2007

Source: https://www.epa.gov/climate-indicators/climate-change-indicators-snowfall

That said, quantity of snow isn’t always the determining factor when it comes to a snowstorm’s deadliness.

The most disruptive snowstorm of 2021 happened in Texas. The mid-February snowfall was quite modest at about 8 inches, but that was way above average for that part of the country. The power grid was overloaded because most power plants weren’t equipped to operate at that temperature. Many areas of the state lost heat and power. The official death toll was 246 people.

snowstorm preparedness

Source: Average Annual U.S. Snowfall
https://www.weather.gov/lot/snowclimatology
County Warning Area tab

While your risk remains low if snow isn’t common in your region, a snowstorm can happen anywhere in the USA. Pay attention to the weather!

About the Authors

It takes a village! We are researching, writing and fact checking as a family. Collaboration is the name of the game, whether we’re running from a zombie horde or finding the best way to turn a complex concept into a deliciously digestible set of bullet points.

Katherine Esperanza is a Los Angeles based writer. When she's not conjuring new queer slice-of-life short stories, she's busy watching the newest films, out at queer shows, supporting queer artists, or just checking out the queer community as a whole.

A former international non-profiteer, small business owner, and co-op'er, Katherine is delighted to help introduce more leftist politics into the disaster preparedness/prepper sphere, which is currently far too right-wing.