Are blizzards scary?

In another thread bordelond noted that there’s a big difference in the terror level of an earthquake or hurricane for people who are used to them and those who are not:

This got me thinking about blizzards. We get several a decade, and while they massively suck, putting out the power and heat and making you shovel a back-breaking amount of snow, we tend to get fair warning that they’re coming and they don’t strike the locals as particularly dangerous. Not earthquake or tornado dangerous, certainly, but on par with a tropical storm or the weakened hurricanes that appear up here once in a great while.

Oh, there have been people who have died during blizzards, but these days that’s pretty rare. If you’re from here you tend to know your limits, when not to wander outside during the thick of it because visibility is low or it’s too cold (and few of us farm and have livestock that need us to venture out to tend to them, which used to be how many people died during blizzards), and I think there are more people who freeze to death after getting locked out of the house on stormless cold nights than during blizzards anyway.

And yeah, there can be a very big, very damaging blizzard, but the last one of massively devastating proportions that happened here was just before my first birthday, so that’s super rare too. As long as it’s not feet of heavy wet snow determined to collapse your roof, you’re probably going to be okay. Cold and annoyed, but okay.

But this is coming from someone who has lived in a snowy place her whole life. Are they scarier to people who get caught in them unexpectedly?

I’m curious what level of danger they seem to people who live places that don’t get lots of snow. Less than say two feet a year, maybe.

I wonder if how isolated you are plays a role too.

Generally, the worst that can happen during a blizzard is you lose power (and with it, heat) but you also lose food and water if you are isolated too long.

I have lived through several blizzards, including an ice storm that eliminated power for several weeks.

We used kerosene heaters and blankets. We were never at risk of running out of food or water.

My impression is that even during a bad blizzard, the roads are open again with a day or two. So being able to get groceries usually isn’t a problem. Water tends to run (even if it doesn’t, there is snow everywhere so you aren’t going to die of dehydration).

Freezing to death could be a problem, but it seems more like a problem for the elderly or those who are mentally or physically disabled. Again, most people can use extra blankets and warmer clothes, or use kerosene or wood fires if their electric heating goes down.

I grew up in northern Wisconsin, and have lived nearly all of my life in the Midwest. Blizzards don’t really scare me at all, though (a) I know how to drive in the snow, and (b) I like to think I’m smart enough to not go out of the house when the storm is raging. Frankly, freezing rain / icestorms frighten me more, because of what they do to the roads, and the power lines.

That said, my clients are in Birmingham, AL, and snow of any sort freaks them out, because even an inch of snow is enough to shut the city down for a day (and it’s apparently rare for them to see snow, of any amount, more than once or twice a winter). When I tell them about our winter storms, and reports of 6 to 12" of snow, they just look at me wide-eyed: “What do you do? How do you even cope with that?” They can’t comprehend that we have enough snow-removal equipment to get the roads cleared in fairly good time, and that driving in an inch or two of snow isn’t particularly challenging or intimidating to someone who’s used to it (and who’s driving on roads that are being treated with salt or sand).

Blizzards typically cause less property damage than hurricanes, but kill more people. Which means that people should fear blizzards more, but property damage gets more attention, so they don’t.

That, and the toll from blizzards tends to fall on Somebody Else (i.e., the poor, those without family, and so on).

Eh. Depends I think. Water should be OK in larger communities with gravity fed water I think. But I’m sure there could be other issues.

If you’re on a well, loss of power does mean loss of water. But that also depends on how resourceful you are. We have small spring in our yard that stays unfrozen even in -30. For heat, well depends again. If you heat with wood or propane, won’t be a problem. And if you are in a house, you can stay warm with the basics in just about any linen closet/bedroom.

You can melt snow on a wood stove, but it really, really sucks. It takes a tremendous amount of heat to melt snow to any usable amount of water. But would keep you alive, if not very clean.

The worst would be if your stuck out on a highway somewhere, with no supplies. You’re pretty much screwed.

enipla ~ 30 feet a snow a season at the house is pretty typical. 20 feet is a dry year.

How scary blizzards are depend on where you are. As noted most people who live through blizzards receive weather forecasts and stay in their house. And a house is easily strong enough to withstand a blizzard. So you mostly worry about inconvenience–electricity going out and snow covered roads when you can’t travel. This is quite different for hurricanes–your house isn’t safe against them.

When you are in a car it is quite frightening to drive almost blind–seeing just a few feet ahead of you. And if you pull off the road you worry about some nut rear-ending you. Or you may be stuck and can’t move. And just sitting in a car with the heater running–besides worrying about running out of gas you start thinking about carbon monoxide poisoning.

The scariest is being outside some distance from shelter. It’s not that uncommon to be caught outside in an unexpected weather situation.

Oh yes. Even having driven my mountain road for 25 years. When a white out like that hits, ya just gotta stop. It’s the same as just closing your eyes.

A friend of mine’s grandfather died in a blizzard by being hit by a train. Car got stuck on railroad tracks. Probably did not see or hear the train. This was in Saskatchewan. Farmers do die in blizzards while tending livestock, still today.

Yeah, I imagine they are if you are caught outside or in a car far away from shelter.

With a major hurricane or a major flood, it’s a disaster for every person in its reach, regardless. With a blizzard, if you’re safe at home and you stay there and wait it out, it CAN be almost as if nothing happened at all. What some stupid people do for hurricanes is often quite reasonable in the face of a blizzard.

I grew up in Buffalo and I kind of liked them. We often had warning of a big storm brewing so my mother would buy lots of food and we’d have a sort of unscheduled holiday. The worst thing was that it could get kind of boring–this was pre-Internet, only three TV channels (five with PBS and the UHF station), so if I exhausted my store of library books I was in trouble. But sleeping in, reading all day by the fire, and having a great dinner wasn’t so bad.

Shoveling snow sucked though. In the famous blizzard of '77, maybe not so famous any more, my mother insisted that we had to keep the driveway clear for when my dad got home. So we were out in a BLIZZARD, mom with a shovel, me with a kid shovel, my little sister with a sandpail, trying to clear the driveway. Everything we cleared away was blown back and then some. My sister was reduced to crying in the minimal shelter of a holly bush. Every now and then we’d go inside to warm up and try my dad–but he wasn’t in his office, and voicemail didn’t exist. Meanwhile he’s trying to call us to say the roads are closed, everyone is gathered in the university student center where there’s heat, food, and couches to sleep on, but he keeps calling when we’re outside, and we don’t have an answering machine. Eventually he happened to call when we were inside and we finally gave up. It was three days before the roads were clear enough to drive home, and he and the other faculty and students had to form work crews to dig out their cars, which were completely covered.

As far as danger, it was like clockwork that old men would die of heart attacks shoveling snow in a blizzard. I doubt they were especially scared though or they wouldn’t have tried to shovel in the first place.

The death toll from a nor’easter is a little misleading in regards to the danger of blizzards. The cold side of the storm produces the blizzard, and if the warm side of the system strikes land (usually over the Southeast), there can be severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. So the figures from a nor’easter includes deaths for both a blizzard up north and a tornado outbreak down south.

I think this must be the blizzard my Dad has told me about before, I take it, that it was a large multi-state event? My Dad would have been 16 and he says they lost power for a month and my grandfather worked for the local electric utility so he was pretty much gone for much of the time.

I’ve lived in either Michigan (SE & west-coast lakeshore) or Chicago my whole life, and blizzards have never bothered me. Like kenobi 65 said, ice is scarier than snow. I’ll go out and drive in the snow; ice and sleet will keep me home.

That being said, we’ve got a good snow blower, a 4X4 truck, and my wife is a teeny bit of a prepper (meaning we’ve always got a few months of dry beans in the basement, canned beans, canned veggies, plus several jugs of water, and plenty of booze :)), so I’ve never felt like we were gonna be trapped and SOL.

We’ve lost power a couple times during snowstorms, but it’s never been more than a couple days. The worst part about losing power is that we’ve got a well and when the pump goes, we’re out of water within 30 minutes, hence the water jugs in the basement. We’ve got chickens and rabbits to feed, but we haven’t had a blizzard that has made it too dangerous to venture out to the pen yet, and I can’t imagine we ever would.

All-in-all, I’d rather have blizzards than hurricanes. My in-laws, who’ve lived in South Florida for 40 years, are planning on moving to west Michigan in the next couple years, so apparently they feel the same.

Blizzards are beautiful acts of Love from** Mother Nature**. Especially the ones with Giant, Fat wet flakes that pour straight down like out of a Fire Hose, building up a base in a matter of hours. So hard, that you can’t see the neighbor’s porch light. So hard you have to run the snow blower every couple hours, 24/7. Power out, nothing to do but sit by the fireplace, drinking…

Yeah. I’ve got a ski hard-on just typing this…

A blizzard is not just snow; it includes strong winds–so the flakes don’t just pour straight down.

The Schoolhouse Blizzard of 1888 was pretty scary.

Absolutely. I’d say 99% of feeling calm in a potentially-dangerous situation is Knowing What To Do: if it’s something you’ve lived with your whole life you’re a lot more likely to be there than someone who’d previously only seen snow in pictures.

The same applies to many other situations. We all have the mental image of England being rainy and Spain being dry, right? Seville gets more annual rainfall than London in a lot less doses: drop a Londoner into the water walls Seville calls “a storm” and if he’s got a brain he’ll get on the shoulder, leave the lights on and stop the car.

Whether someone understands the level and type of risk is also influenced by experience, often in the direction of not being able to tell that yes, the danger is real. In the last decade there has been heavy snowfalls in Spain during Christmas Eve a few times. The weather people give warnings, the cops give warnings, and yet, we do get images of people spending Christmas in a school gym, being fed by the Guardia Civil and Caritas. And it’s never people who live in places that routinely get snow who get trapped: it’s people going from Madrid to the Northern Coast or vice versa, people who don’t understand that by the time the Guardia Civil says “it’s going to get real nasty” it means “it’s going to be enormously fucked up but I’m not allowed to say four-letter-words”.

I was through a few as a kid so these days they don’t phase me at all. Dad was calm, prepared, and just handled it so I learned to do the same. Plus winters seemed (and the snowfall records seem to back that up) longer and more snowy back in my youth and we were in the mountains and not the Big City. That really seems to change your prospective as well.

I agree with the others who say “It depends where you are”, though truly I’m not sure I’d ever consider blizzards “scary.” At worst, they’re a hassle. If I’m caught in what they call a blizzard in Georgia, for example, I’ll just stay in lest snow-neophyte Southerners rear-end me because they don’t understand that snow is slippery.

'Round here, there’s not much that keeps us in. The only time I truly remember not being able to do something because of snow was a few years ago when we had white out conditions and we were invited to a friend’s house for dinner. We ended up turning around halfway there because we couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of the car.

Other than that, snow & blizzards don’t really stop us yoopers much, and don’t scare us at all. But that’s entirely because we live in small towns with large snow-removal budgets and generally know how to deal with it.