Why is this a "blizzard" and not just a big snowstorm?

Buckingham Pond blizzard 2017-03-14

Visibility: low.

In most winters around here, we get at least a few big snowstorms, with a foot or more of snow. But they're not blizzards.

This week's storm? It's been tagged as a blizzard.

So... why is that?

The meteorological definition

Here are the requirements for a blizzard designation, per the National Weather Service:

A blizzard means that the following conditions are expected to prevail for a period of 3 hours or longer:
+ Sustained wind or frequent gusts to 35 miles an hour or greater; and
+ Considerable falling and/or blowing snow (i.e., reducing visibility frequently to less than 1/4 mile)

So the official designation isn't directly related to the amount of snow -- it's the combination of snow and wind together.

Etymology

That roots of the word (probably) stretch back to a place where winter tends to blow snow around quite a bit -- the American Midwest, specifically Iowa. From a post at Grammarphobia:

In an article published in February 1928, [Columbia University etymologist Allen Walker] Read says the earliest example of the usage he found was from the April 23, 1870, issue of the Northern Vindicator, a newspaper in Estherville serving Emmet County in northwest Iowa. (Someone should write an article about the names of small-town newspapers.)
That issue of the Vindicator debunked a "glowing account" in another newspaper, the Algona Upper Des Moines, that an Emmet County resident was endangered by a severe storm that had struck the Midwest on March 14-16, 1870:
"Campbell has had too much experience with northwestern 'blizards' to be caught in such a trap, in order to make sensational paragraphs for the Upper Des Moines."
A week later, on April 30, 1870, the Vindicator spelled "blizzard" with a double "z." Under the headline "Man Frozen at Okoboji, Iowa," an article says:
"Dr. Ballard who has just returned from a visit to the unfortunate victim of the March 'blizzard' reports that his patient is rapidly improving."
In both of these articles, the word is enclosed in quotation marks, suggesting that the usage was relatively new or considered colloquial.

The word precedes its usage in reference to weather. It originally was used to describe an outburst of some sort. Writes etymologist and linguist Anatoly Liberman in a blog post for Oxford University Press:

Despite the "origin unknown" stigma attached to blizzard, most researchers (and I mean researchers, not the authors of fanciful or folk etymological hypotheses) have offered similar derivations of our word. The original sense of blizzard must have been "a violent outburst," and bluster immediately comes to mind as a word of nearly the same sound shape and meaning. The groups bl- and b...l render various sound effects: consider babble, blob, burble, bubble, bobolink (a bird's name), and blow among others. Presumably, bluster and bliz(z) belonged to that group. Such words may never acquire broader meanings, but a metaphor occasionally gives them greater exposure. For example, buzz, to quote the OED, means "to make a sibilant humming sound" (oh, the aptness and beauty of such definitions!). The appearance of the noun buzzword allowed buzz to increases its scope of application, while the polite advice to an importune person to buzz off weakened its ties with sibilant flies and mosquitoes still further. Cattle running away from the swarms of buzzing horseflies were called bisig in the old language; this is the most likely origin of the adjective busy and its Dutch cognate bezig (originally "incessantly occupied": compare busybody). Blizz, like buzz, must have existed on the outskirts of spoken English for an indefinite period of time. To be sure, we cannot know when it arose.

As Liberman notes the word ended up being used to describe anything with great quickness -- a gunshot, or even a strong drink.

And the Oxford English Dictionary describes its origin as "more or less onomatopœic."

Stay warm as the snow blizzes about.

Say Something!

We'd really like you to take part in the conversation here at All Over Albany. But we do have a few rules here. Don't worry, they're easy. The first: be kind. The second: treat everyone else with the same respect you'd like to see in return. Cool? Great, post away. Comments are moderated so it might take a little while for your comment to show up. Thanks for being patient.

The Scoop

Ever wish you had a smart, savvy friend with the inside line on what's happening around the Capital Region? You know, the kind of stuff that makes your life just a little bit better? Yeah, we do, too. That's why we created All Over Albany. Find out more.

Recently on All Over Albany

The plan for a redeveloped, modern Ida Yarbrough Homes

The first units in the first phase of the Ida Yarbrough Homes redevelopment in Arbor Hill are set to start renting this September. And the... (more)

Beer and farms

New York's farm brewery license has helped prompt a big increase in the number of breweries around state -- the number has doubled over the... (more)

What's up in the Neighborhood

Among the topics in this most recent spin around the Capital Region's online neighborhood: depression in the kitchen, 1 Monument Square, the Capital District, insurance,... (more)

Schenectady Suds walking tour

The Schenectady County Historical Society has a series of beer-themed walking tours of the Stockade coming up in September. Blurbage for "Schenectady Suds": Take a... (more)

Morning Blend

Cuomo on health care vote Andrew Cuomo blasted the Senate on Tuesday for a procedural vote to move forward with an effort to repeal the... (more)

Recent Comments

Mine is a plug-in hybrid, and so perhaps I didn't have as much angst about this question as I might have with a wholly electric vehicle, but I had full confidence in Larry's Foreign Auto from their work on my prior vehicle, and they were not daunted by a hybrid. ...

Mastroianni Bros bread returning to stores

...has 11 comments, most recently from Warren Zeiser

Morning Blend for Jul 26

...has 1 comment, most recently from ace

Good swimming spots for dogs?

...has 5 comments, most recently from chrisck

Here's how New York State's new paid family leave program will work

...has 2 comments, most recently from adama2010

The selected redevelopment proposal for the former Troy city hall site

...has 21 comments, most recently from Andy Gregory