How Do Snowstorms Form?

snowstorms-form Credit: Petri Artturi Asikainen/Taxi Japan/Getty Images

Snowstorms form when different temperatures and moisture levels mix in the air. When a mass of warm moist air moves over a mass of cold dry air, a front is formed, which results in rain. When the air chills to temperatures below freezing (0ºC, or 32ºF), the rain turns into ice crystals. As the ice crystals fall, the air temperature increases, causing the crystals to turn to snow.

A snowstorm, also referred to as a blizzard, is a combination of strong winds, below freezing temperatures and intense snowfall. The severity of a snowstorm depends on how fast the warm air moves over the cold air and the amount of moisture available. Some of the most destructive snowstorms, such as the Blizzard of 1888 and the Buffalo Blizzard of 1977, posted snowfall totals in excess of 60 inches and winds up to 69 mph. Snowstorms are often further broken down and classified as snow flurries (short, low-intensity snowfall), snow showers (longer periods of snow with varying levels of intensity) and snow squalls (high intensity snowfall in repeated short bursts). Although snowstorms occur most frequently during the winter, it is not unusual for them to happen in the spring or late autumn.