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Severe Weather and Natural Disaster
Winter Storms

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Weather expert and general forecaster Ingrid Amberger joined a Weather Watch bulletin board from August 30 to September 29, 2003.

Student: What temperature does it have to be to hail? My name is Ricky.
Ingrid Amberger: Hail is produced by thunderstorms. The temperature at the surface does not matter. Hailstones form above the freezing level in a thunderstorm.

Teacher: I’m doing a project with fifth graders...want to know where to find records of snowfall in Warrenton, VA between 1993 and 2003. Can you give suggestions?
Ingrid Amberger: Try searching Weather Source for Warrenton, VA. There also may be a Cooperative Observer in or close to Warrenton. You could purchase that data from the National Climatic Data Center.

Student: What's your prediction on this upcoming winter? Thanks!
Ingrid Amberger: The Climate Prediction Center's outlook for the northeast United States for this winter is for near normal. Check out the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center for temperature and precipitation outlooks for the United States.

Student: How do storms work?
Ingrid Amberger: There are 3 key components for a winter storm:
1) Cold Air for snow and ice/freezing rain to form, the temperature must be below freezing in the clouds and near the ground
2) Moisture
3) Lift (cold front/warm front) which causes moisture to rise and form clouds and precipitation (snow and ice)
Check out the National Weather Service's Winter Resources page for more information.

Student: I have an assignment on ice storms. Can you tell me what an ice storm is or where to find more information?
Ingrid Amberger: An ice storm is a storm that produces freezing rain. Freezing rain occurs when rain falls and freezes on cold surfaces as a sheet of ice. If the ice accumulation becomes heavy enough (1/2 inch or more) it will bring down trees, utility poles/lines, and even communication towers.
Even a little accumulation of ice can be extremely dangerous to motorists and pedestrians. Go to the National Weather Service for more information.

Student: How come it does not snow all the time?
Student: Why does it snow?
Ingrid Amberger: Because it is too warm. It is typically cold enough for precipitation to start out in the form of snow in the clouds; however it is the temperature below the clouds to the earth's surface that determines if the precipitation occurs in the form of rain, freezing rain, sleet, or snow.
The State Climate Office of North Carolina has an excellent graphic depicting the temperature structure of the atmosphere for rain, freezing rain, sleet, and snow.

Student: What is the worst blizzard ever, in your opinion??
Ingrid Amberger: The worst blizzard I have experienced was the Blizzard of January 1996 - 20.2 inches of snow fell at Central Park in New York City. The winter of 1995-96 was the snowiest winter on record for New York City and the records go back to 1869.
Biggest Snow Storms for New York City:
26.4 inches December 26-27, 1947
21.0 inches March 12-14, 1888 (Blizzard of 1888)
20.2 inches January 7-8, 1996

Student: What is the best way to prepare for the coming winter?
Ingrid Amberger: It is important to know the definitions of winter advisories, watches, and warnings.
ADVISORY: Winter weather conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous. If caution is exercised, these situations should not become life threatening. The greatest hazard is often to motorists.
WATCH: Severe winter conditions (heavy snow and/or ice) are possible within the next day or two. Prepare now!
WARNING: Severe winter conditions have begun or are about to begin in your area. Stay indoors!
You should always fully check and winterize your vehicle(s) before the winter season begins.
Check out the National Weather Service: Winter Weather Safety for tips on being prepared for and safe during a storm, and the Climate Prediction Center for monthly and seasonal outlook maps.

Student: Why does it get colder? Why does it snow?
Ingrid Amberger: It gets colder in the winter for two reasons. The sun's angle decreases over North America during the wintertime, so the less direct rays of the sun do not warm the earth as much. Also the daylight hours are much shorter thus the sun has less time to heat the earth and during the longer nighttime hours the earth cools much more.

Student: I have a question about snowstorms. Where was the worst snowstorm ever in the whole world??? Jocelyn
Ingrid Amberger: I do not know where the worst snowstorm was in the world, but the deadliest snowstorms in North America are Blizzard of 1996 and the Knickerbocker Storm of 1922. The Blizzard of 1996 resulted in more than 100 deaths throughout much of the eastern United States. The Knickerbocker Storm of 1922 also was responsible for the death of about 100 people after the roof of the Knickerbocker Theatre in Washington, D.C., gave way to the strain of 2 feet of very heavy snow.
The three biggest snowstorms for Central Park NY:
1) 26.4 inches December 26-27, 1947
2) 21.0 inches March 12-14, 1888
3) 20.2 inches January 6-7, 1996.

Student: How do blizzards work?
Ingrid Amberger: A blizzard is a snowstorm with very strong winds. The strong wind blows the snow around causing near white-out conditions (visibilities near zero), deep snowdrifts and life-threatening wind chill.

Student: What makes a winter storm?
Ingrid Amberger: Cold air in the clouds to make the snow and cold air near the ground so it will accumulate.
Moisture to form the clouds and snow.
Lift. Something to raise the moist air to form clouds and cause the snow, like a cold front or warm front.

Student: How many days was the longest snowstorm you heard of?
Ingrid Amberger: Looking back through the Central Park, New York City climatic records, I found a winter storm that lasted 4 days (February 4th-7th, 1920). Typically a storm affects an area for 1 or 2 days.

Student: Do you like your job as a weather reporter? That is what I want to be when I grow up. I am 14 years old and live in Lincoln, Nebraska, and I watch the weather channel every day when I get home.
Ingrid Amberger: I enjoy my job as a meteorologist (forecaster). I really became interested in weather as a possible career when I took Earth Science in the 9th grade. A way you can become more involved with weather is by becoming a "spotter" for your local National Weather Service (NWS) Forecast Office. Your NWS Office is Omaha, NE. Check out the National Weather Service web site to find out how to become a "spotter" and to follow your local weather.

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