(WBRE/WYOU) — All it takes is one good storm to turn Pennsylvania into a winter wonderland. But did you know that not all storms are created equal?
While the impacts of the storms we see here in Pennsylvania may seem similar, not all snowstorms are created equal. Living in Pennsylvania, it’s not unlikely that you’ve thrown around terms like clipper, Nor’easter, and of course blizzard.
But while all of those storms have the potential to produce snow, they’re all drastically different. Let’s start small.
“Most of them are referred to as Alberta clippers because they generally come from the Alberta Province in Canada,” Mitchell Gaines of NWS Binghamton said.
Clipper systems are physically small and relatively speedy.
“They have very limited moisture overall and are moving very quick,” Gaines said.
But they can still drop a few inches of snow and are often accompanied by colder-than-average temperatures.
“It really differs a lot from some of our larger, wetter storms that come out of the south,” Gaines said.
Speaking of rain and snow, one of those larger, wetter storm types has become quite a buzzword.
“It’s kind of like a jargon term really,” Dave Nicosia of NWS Binghamton said.
That term is Nor’easter and contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t form specifically in the Northeast and it doesn’t always mean snow.
“They can happen as early as September and as late as May,” Nicosia said.
Nor’easters are large, low-pressure systems that form on the coast and result in northeasterly winds inland. During the warmer months, like September, October, April, and May, the precipitation that falls with a Nor’easter will likely be rain. But as it gets colder…
“When it’s cold enough, those are our most prolific snow producers in northeast Pennsylvania,” Nicosia said.
And while a big snow-producer like a Nor’easter could have an impact on visibility, when we’re talking about visibility, we’re really talking about the dreaded B-word.
“A lot of winter storms are described as blizzards, but there is a very strict definition for a blizzard that has to be met,” Gaines said.
Part of that definition may surprise you. For a storm to have blizzard conditions, it doesn’t actually have to be producing snow.
“Falling and or blowing snow,” Nicosia said.
But it does have to have a serious effect on visibility.
“Winds have to gust over 35 miles per hour for three hours,” Nicosia said.
And visibility has to drop to a quarter-mile.
“To put that in reference of a quarter-mile, that means you’d have trouble seeing out the front of your window,” Gaines said.
But whatever the weather and whichever the storm, what matters most is that you’re prepared for what’s ahead.
You can see the Eyewitness Weather team’s full winter outlook on Tuesday, November 26 and you can always learn more about staying safe during severe weather with our winter weather handbook.