Blizzards in the Upper Midwest

Copyright Lawrence Burkett 2015, minor rev. 2019


Blizzards are severe snowstorms characterized by high winds and enough snow in the air to significantly reduce visibility near the surface. In the conterminous United States, published scientific literature indicates blizzards as common in the Dakotas and Minnesota. In this study, blizzard frequency by year, month, and county was recorded from 1980-2013 in eastern North Dakota and northern Minnesota. Additionally, blizzard duration and area impacted were estimated including trends in blizzard frequency. Ninety-three blizzards impacted the Upper Midwest in 34 years studied with an average of 2-3 blizzards per year, with a linear increase in blizzards with respect to time. However, variation exists in the number of blizzards each year. All blizzards occurred from October-April with greatest frequency from December through February. Typical blizzard durations were several hours, while areas impacted averaged 50,000 km2. Differences in blizzard frequency in the Upper Midwest are strongly related to differences in forest cover.