Blizzards are winter storms characterized by blowing snow, less than quarter of a mile of visibility outdoors and strong winds moving 35 mph or faster, according to the National Weather Service. The word "blizzard" once referenced a powerful cannon or musket shot, but in the 1870s, an Iowa newspaper coined the term for a snowstorm.
The combination of excessive snowfall, freezing temperatures and intense wind leads to severe wind chill, making people more vulnerable to hypothermia and frostbite, according to the U.S. Search and Rescue Task Force. Blizzards can also cause frozen pipes, flooding, fires, power loss and road blockages, leaving many families stranded until help arrives.
One of the most memorable storms in U.S. history occurred along the east coast in March 1888. The Great White Hurricane lasted four days and left cities, such as New York and Boston, buried under snowdrifts as high as 50 feet, according to History.com. Rail, telegraph and telephone communication were completely halted; neighborhoods suffered fire and flood damage; and 400 lives were lost, including 200 in New York City. In March 1993, an infamous blizzard, known as the Storm of the Century, produced record snowfall across 26 U.S. states and caused 300 fatalities.
Emergency warning and rescue tactics established by the government have helped to reduce deaths and damages caused by harsh winter storms. For example, improvements in weather forecasting technology allowed governors to declare a state of emergency and draft basic response plans before the 1993 Storm of the Century began.