National Weather Service
National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce
 

winter storm navigation bar, hover for links winter storm safety home page winter storm watch vs. warning before a winter storm during a winter storm After  a winter storm

Traffic camera showing whiteout conditions in North Dakota during a ground blizzard.

weather-ready nation link


Winter Storm Navigation bar, hover for links snow climatology nor'easter information ice and frost info link Lake Effect Snow page avalanche information entreme cold and Wind Chill site latest forecasts and observations education, links and partners outreach, education and frequently asked winter weather questions and answers

What is a Ground Blizzard?

The most well-known blizzards are winter storms that produce several inches occuring with strong winds that cause blowing snow and whiteout conditions, but not all blizzards happen this way. In the Midwest, ground blizzards develop with little or no snowfall. One of the most infamous ground blizzards was the Children's Blizzard of 1888, which killed an estimated 235 people in the Great Plains. Since then, there have been countless other ground blizzards, many of which were deadly.

Ground blizzards are extremely dangerous because they are preceded by unseasonably warm air, which can cause people to let their guard down. People may venture outside without proper winter clothing. This relatively warm weather does not last long. The ground blizzard occurs when an Arctic cold front moves through the region, causing temperatures to drop and winds to increase, often reaching gusts of 50 to 60 mph. If there are several inches of deep fresh snow on the ground, this strong wind will quickly pick up the snow and create whiteout conditions. Another reason these blizzards are dangerous is the cold temperatures that follow behind the Arctic front. Anyone stranded in their vehicle or forced to walk outside is at risk of frostbite or hypothermia.