“Snow flurries began to fall and they swirled around people's legs like house cats. It was magical, this snow globe world.” ― Sarah Addison Allen, The Sugar Queen

Having a winter storm prior to your trip and dealing with poor road conditions on your way out there is a problem. Weathering the storm while you’re out there is just part of the adventure.

However, it’s still crucial you know what’s coming your way so you can prepare for it. Winter has a complex list of weather possibilities formed by ever-changing patterns of warm and cold temperatures and wind directions. Let’s take a look at them:

Blizzard: Made up of strong winds, heavy snowfall, blowing snow and very cold temperatures. It happens when cold fronts converge on warmer moist air. A snowstorm is dubbed a blizzard the moment the wind exceeds 56 km/h (35 mph) and visibility reduces to under 400 metres (1,300 feet) for extended moments in time.

Lake-Effect Snowstorm: Cold wind blowing across a large, warmer open body of water. It can become nasty very quickly and drop a load of snow in a short period of time.

Nor’easter or “Snow Squall”: A massive snowstorm created by low-pressure off the eastern coast of North America. It can replicate devastating tropical hurricane storms.

Overrunning: Occurs when a low-pressure trough from the south hits a mass of polar air, bringing along with it a lot of snow for an extended period of time.

Whiteout: Refers to an excessive amount of blowing and falling snow, which reduces visibility.

Wind Chill: This isn’t the actual air temperature. It’s the temperature rating which takes into account the human body temperature and wind effects. It estimates the average loss of body heat and how the outside temperature feels to the average person.

Flurry: A brief snowfall that adds up to little to no accumulation.

Freezing Rain: It’s a bit of a contradiction. Is it liquid or solid? The answer is both. It comes down from the sky as a liquid (raindrop) but freezes as it hits a ground temperature below zero degrees Celsius. It happens in winter when ground-level temperatures are below freezing, but the air above is warmer.

Sleet: Similar to freezing rain in how it forms, but appears as ice pellets bouncing off the ground rather than coating the ground surface. It basically forms sooner in the air than freezing rain.

Wintry Mix: A blend between freezing rain and sleet… and it’s just plain nasty to camp in.

Kevin CallanKevin Callan

Hoarfrost: Frost that looks like spiky hairs. The term comes from the word “hoar,” which means “ancient,” due to it having some resemblance to an old man’s shaggy, white beard. It happens when water vapour freezes instantly on a cold surface, like a car window, tree branch or a crust of snow. The moisture in the air goes directly from vapour to a solid.

Polycrystal: Developed when several snowflakes fuse into one large flake.

Barchan: A snowdrift in the shape of a horseshoe.

Graupel: Ice balls varying in size—basically a snowflake that’s melted halfway while dropping out of the sky, then refreezes as it continues to fall to the ground.

Rime: This is the ice that airplane pilots despise. It can form on the windward side of a plane as it travels through cold fog. It accumulates into a milky white substance as water droplets freeze on a hard surface.

Snow: Forms when both the ground and the air are sub-freezing. It’s a white or limpid six-sided hexagonal ice crystal.

Snowfall: A measurement of snow depth expressed every six hours.

Snow Banner: Snow being blown off the peak of a mountain, like smoke off a volcano.

Snowburst: An extraordinary accumulation of snow in a very short period of time.

Snow Flurries: A short period of non-significant snow accumulation.

Snow Showers: Frozen precipitation that looks like snow, doesn’t last long and doesn’t leave much on the ground.

Related Content:

Plan your next great adventure with explore!
Off the beaten path locations, tips and tricks, interviews with intrepid explorers and more.