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WeatherTalk: Ground blizzards are tricky to forecast

It is very difficult to predict the wind's ability to lift old snow and make it airborne.

Cartoon of John Wheeler with a speech bubble depicting weather events
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FARGO — Windy winter weather is made much worse when there is ample snow on the ground. with enough wind, an old snow cover can be lifted into the air, producing whiteout conditions as bad as if it were actually snowing. Without falling snow, these so-called ground blizzards are typically much worse in open country because buildings and trees catch the windblown snow and improve the visibility in their wake.

Ground blizzards are a nightmare to forecast, because it is very difficult to predict the wind's ability to lift old snow and make it airborne. Snow cover has a lot of air in among the snow crystals and so old snow cover is always somewhat compacted. Sometimes it has even melted and refrozen, creating a crust. Enough wind can still break loose the snow and cause a blizzard, but knowing just how much wind is required is sometimes not much more than a guess.

Related Topics: WEATHER
John Wheeler is Chief Meteorologist for WDAY, a position he has had since May of 1985. Wheeler grew up in the South, in Louisiana and Alabama, and cites his family's move to the Midwest as important to developing his fascination with weather and climate. Wheeler lived in Wisconsin and Iowa as a teenager. He attended Iowa State University and achieved a B.S. degree in Meteorology in 1984. Wheeler worked about a year at WOI-TV in central Iowa before moving to Fargo and WDAY..
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