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If you’re unused to severe winter weather, you may not know what to expect when traveling to areas that commonly fall victim to it. Knowing what to expect when it comes to winter weather will ensure that you’re prepared to navigate the ice and snow safely, both for your own sake and for the sake of others. Here are a few types of winter weather to prepare for if you’re heading somewhere cold for the first time.


Winter Storms


Winter storms can be life-threatening due to the heavy, blowing snow and dangerous wind chills that accompany them. The most infamous of winter storms are blizzards, and for a good reason: the combination of blowing snow and wind results in low visibility. Though they don’t always accompany blizzards, heavy snowfall and severe cold are often present as well. Ice storms, meanwhile, create hazardous walking conditions due to the accumulation of—at minimum—a quarter-inch of ice on exposed surfaces. Tree branches and powerlines can snap under these conditions because of the weight of the ice.


Lake effect storms are caused by cold, dry air moving over the Great Lakes regions, which picks up moisture from the Great Lakes. With moisture now in the air, it will be dumped to the ground as snow around the south and east sides of the lake. Snow squalls don’t last long, but they’re just as dangerous as the previously mentioned storms: they’re brief yet intense snow showers accompanied by strong, gusty winds. The snow accumulation from these squalls can end up significant. These also tend to happen in the Great Lakes regions.




There are three types of weather result from precipitation in winter conditions: snow, sleet, and freezing rain.


Most wintertime precipitation begins as snow due to the top layer of the storm typically being cold enough to create snowflakes. The worst of the snow that falls creates storms like blizzards and snow squalls, while the calmer types of snow include snow showers (snow that falls at varying intensities and sometimes accumulates) and snow flurries  (a light snowfall for a short period of time that results in a light dusting at most).


Sleet is the halfway point between snow and rain, created when snowflakes only partially melt as they fall through the air and to the ground. A shallow layer of warm air melts them as they fall, but once they reach the ground, they refreeze as frozen raindrops and bounce once they hit the surface. 


Freezing rain works similarly to sleet with one exception: the water doesn’t refreeze before it hits the ground. It will, however, instantly refreeze when coming in contact with anything at or below 0 degrees Celcius, creating ice on the ground, trees, powerlines, and other objects. A significant amount of freezing rain over several hours results in what is called an ice storm.