Q: What are some of the country's worst blizzards?
A: You can find several, says Brent McRoberts of Texas A&M University. "Buffalo, New York, had a blizzard that paralyzed the city for days in 1999, and Denver had a similar situation in 1997 and Boston suffered terrible blizzard conditions in 1978," he reports. "Chicago had two of the worst-ever blizzards in 1979 and one in 1967. The '67 blizzard totaled 23 inches of snow with drifts up to 9 feet and the city was virtually shut down for days, with city officials estimating that 75 million tons of snow fell. At least 60 people died, many of them from heart attacks while shoveling snow. Although records tend to be sketchy, perhaps the country's worst blizzard occurred in 1888. In parts of the Midwest, the temperature fell 74 degrees to minus 28 within hours and the Colorado River froze solid throughout much of Texas. That blizzard killed 238 people."
Q: How strong is a storm before it's classified as a blizzard?
A: There are some specific requirements, McRoberts adds. "In meteorological terms, a blizzard is a severe storm that has below freezing temperatures, winds of at least 35 miles per hour and heavy snowfall, with visibility reduced to no more than one-fourth of a mile," he explains. "All of these conditions have to last at least three hours. So just a heavy snowfall is not always a blizzard. They occur most often in the Great Plains, North Central U.S. and parts of the Northeast."