By Nathan French
A blizzard is a severe storm condition characterized by low temperatures, strong winds, and heavy blowing snow. By definition, the difference between a blizzard and a snowstorm is the strength of the wind. Ground blizzards are a variation on the traditional blizzard; in that ground blizzards require high winds to stir up snow that has already fallen, rather than fresh snowfall. Regardless of the variety of blizzard, they can bring near-whiteout conditions, which restrict visibility to near zero.
In the United States, the National Weather Service defines a blizzard as sustained winds or frequent gusts reaching or exceeding 35 mph which lead to blowing snow and cause visibilities of ¼ mile or less, lasting for at least three hours. Temperature is not taken into consideration when issuing a blizzard warning, but the nature of these storms is such that cold air is often present when the other criteria are met.
Officials closed Interstate 40 west of Amarillo early Friday as the area blizzard intensified. A Texas Department of Public Safety dispatcher in Amarillo stated that the National Guard has been placed on alert to help blizzard-stranded motorists, if needed. A few of the Guard made their way to Dalhart on Friday to aid local emergency responders in efforts of assisting stranded motorists.
A series of wrecks also mandated the closing of U.S. Highway 87 from Dalhart to the New Mexico state line. Authorities also closed U.S. 54 west of Dalhart and U.S. 385 north of Dalhart because of low visibility and poor driving conditions in the blowing snow.
The National Weather Service stated snowfalls of up to a foot and winds gusting to more than 45 mph could lead to snowdrifts of up to 20 feet. Locally, snow depth was reported to be around 12-16” with some drifts reaching over 12 feet. The avalanche of snow in such a brief period of time caused travel to be near impossible around town. Some motorists abandoned their vehicles, and received rides from more “snow friendly” vehicles. I personally braved the roads in an effort to prevent cabin fever Friday evening, and learned the lesson that 2-wheel drive vehicles should remain at home during weather like this. After assistance from a kind man who pulled me halfway down Denrock and then made sure I made it home safely, I decided that blizzards are not for my kind.
I am not exactly sure what kind blizzards are for: maybe the overzealous skiers and daredevils of powder, but for me they remind me that Mother Nature is still in control. The kind 4X4 owners of Dalhart, the fire department, police department, aid responders, and the good Samaritans all deserve kudos in making the blizzard a little less cold.