The U.S. Has Doubled the Number of Blizzards in the Last Two Decades

Elizabeth Borneman


A bit of snow on the ground is an exciting thing, for children and some adults alike. We enjoy the peaceful nature of snow falling, the sound muffling the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Snow gets us out of work, school, and allows us to stay home and play on occasion. However, snow can bring about more than a few problems in locations all around the world.

What is a blizzard?

A blizzard is a severe weather condition characterized by low temperatures and strong winds bearing a great amount of snow, either falling or picked up from the ground. The U.S. National Weather Service specifically defines a blizzard as a storm which contains large amounts of snow or blowing snow, with winds in excess of 35 mph and visibilities of less than 1/4 mile for an extended period of time (at least 3 hours).

Key factors that characterize a blizzard include the combination of cold air, heavy snowfall or snow on the ground, and strong winds, which together can create dangerous and life-threatening conditions due to extremely poor visibility and the risk of hypothermia or frostbite. The whiteout conditions caused by a blizzard can lead to severe travel disruptions, property damage, and risk to human and animal life.

Number of blizzards in the U.S. has doubled in two decades

The number of blizzards that hit the United States has nearly doubled in the last two decades, researchers from Ball State University reported. Geographers have counted the number of blizzards that were common during different decades in recent history; between 1960 and 1994 there was an average of nine blizzards per year in the US, while the number is closer to 19 between 1995 and 2016.

A downstream view from the bridge during a blizzard, with ice forming on both edges of the river.
Ice forms on the sides of a river during a blizzard. Photo: USGS, public domain.

Why are there more blizzards now in the United States?

Some scientists say the increase in blizzards is related to sunspots, or magnetic fields generated by the sun. Others say the rise in blizzard numbers is simply a matter of record keeping. Blizzards are cropping up in places that have rarely seen snow before, though.

What states have never had a recorded blizzard?

The only states that have never had a recorded blizzard are Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

Tracking sunspot activity with blizzard data

Sunspot activity has been tracked alongside blizzard data. This information shows that a dip in sunspots correlates to a rise in snow storms around the world. Sunspots are just one factor that could influence blizzards; others include macro climate patterns.

An image of the sun showing some sunspots that are darker than the rest of the sun.
This image, taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamic Observatory on October 23, 2014, shows an enormous sunspot – spanning almost 80,000 miles in diameter – on the lower central area of the sun. Image Credit: NASA/SDO, public domain.

Sunspots and their effects still aren’t entirely understood by scientists. Additional research is necessary in order to make a greater connection between the number of blizzards and sunspot activity in addition to other areas where sunspots may affect the Earth. What is clear is that the number of blizzards are increasing in the United States, and out of season blizzards are hitting cities around the country harder than ever before.


Researcher: Number of blizzards doubled in past 20 years.  USA Today, January 25, 2016.


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About the author
Elizabeth Borneman
My name is Elizabeth Borneman and I am a freelance writer, reader, and coffee drinker. I live on a small island in Alaska, which gives me plenty of time to fish, hike, kayak, and be inspired by nature. I enjoy writing about the natural world and find lots of ways to flex my creative muscles on the beach, in the forest, or down at the local coffee shop.

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