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Question
I have a question about severe weather.  I am writing a story about characters who take refuge from a severe storm.  How quickly can the weather change from merely a heavy snowfall to a blizzard with strong winds.  Can this phenomena happen unexpectedly or would it take a while for a storm this strong to build up?  What about a whiteout.  How quickly can visibility change?

Answer
Hi Patrick

Well, heavy snowfall is defined as having visibility 1/4 mile or less with snow falling from the sky. A blizzard can be either snow falling or being picked up from the ground and blown about by high winds.

So, a heavy snow event can instantly become a blizzard with the arrival of high (gale force) winds.

A whiteout is when visibility falls to zero in heavy snow.

Visibility can be quite variable in any of these events and change "on-a-dime".

http://amsglossary.allenpress.com/glossary/search?id=snow1

http://nsidc.org/arcticmet/glossary/blizzard.html

http://w1.weather.gov/glossary/index.php?word=blizzard

http://w1.weather.gov/glossary/index.php?word=heavy+snow

http://www.nws.noaa.gov/pa/faq.php#q16

http://amsglossary.allenpress.com/glossary/search?p=1&query=whiteout&submit=Sear  

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Donald Rosenfeld

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Any questions (except private) answered from the 1st grade level on up pertaining to any aspect of Weather. I am a 20 year member of the American Meteorological society and a long time forecaster of eastern United States snow storms and Hurricanes.

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