Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know about Winter Weather


When it comes to winter weather in Erie, Pa., we joke that we don’t have snow days. Three feet in three hours? That’s normal. Let’s keep moving. We drive more all-wheel-drive vehicles, we have snowplows that get the job done, and schools, stores and businesses stay open.

But every once in a great while, there’s a storm that even slows us Erieites down. This week’s weather is one of them. And it made us ask, what’s winter weather really all about? What were the most severe winter storms in U.S. history? How much does severe winter weather cost the economy? And what the heck is thundersnow? Keep reading to find out the answers to these and more below.

What are the most severe winter storms in U.S. history?

Live Science.com details the 10 worst blizzards in U.S. history. Their list spans more than a century, from 1888 to 2010, and some interesting names such as “The Children’s Blizzard” that hit the Midwest in 1913 and “The Knickerbocker” storm that hit D.C. in 1922. And of course Snowmadgeddon from 2010.

How much does severe winter weather cost the economy?

According to Paul Kocin, a meteorologist with NOAA/National Weather Service, winter storms have much less impact on the economy than other types of storms, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, etc., averaging less about 2.5 percent ($3 billion of $114 billion) of the total cost of weather-related damages over an eight-year period. Still, the economic effect of winter storms – or all storms – in the form of lost retail sales, impact on payroll and housing activity is largely unknown.

How do people handle school snow days without work snow days?

As American’s, we have trouble taking time off. Businesses are not required by law to provide paid time off, and many workers have at least once felt that taking time off was “wrong.” We agonize over vacation, even when it’s planned in advance. And we often work even if we logged the day as vacation. It’s no wonder snow days are particularly troublesome. They’re unexpected and they hit our work-life-balance nerve. So what’s a worker to do when the kids have no school but business is still open? Consider safety, and if you need to take the day, take the day. Your kids will thank you. (And remember, closing a school district is a hard decision to make.)

What causes thundersnow?

Thunderstorms hit when warm and cold air collide, and although rare, snowstorms with thunder follow the same principle. So what’s different about thundersnow? The thunder can only be heard within a two- to three-mile radius since the snow tends to dampen the sound. It also happens most often with lake-effect snow near the Great Lakes.

How often do people lose power, and how do they stay warm?

Losing power is only one of the many dangers that come with severe winter weather. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to protect yourself from lost heat and other risks. (Using the gas stove to heat the house is NOT one of them, as it can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.) Here are tips from disastersafety.org, The National Disaster Education Coalition, Consumer Energy and Erie Insurance.

Which cities are the best prepared to deal with snow?

Most likely, the ones that get snow. Funny, GoldenSnowGlobe.com lists Erie, Pa., as the snowiest city in the U.S. this year. Even we were a little surprised… but this site gives the snowy kudos to Colorado, which we think makes sense (and we’re fairly certain they’re accustomed to dealing with the accumulation).

Which cities are the least equipped to deal with heavy snow?

Washington, D.C., often gets labeled for its overly-cautious handling of snow, but we also guess Miami wouldn’t be terribly prepared should Frosty swing by. But it’s just a guess. We hear Pittsburgh cancels school often even for only a few inches because driving conditions become treacherous on all those hills, too.

What are the most dangerous aspects of blizzards?

There are lots, but two of the most common include driving in bad conditions and being exposed to extreme cold. Here are tips on how to deal with both and more.

Are bad winters predictable?

The Farmers’ Almanac and other guides always give their best estimate on the harshness of winter, sometimes by signs such as pigs gathering sticks. But this kind of prediction is only one part (or less) scientific. Meteorologists have gotten much better, though, at predicting severe weather days in advance, which helps us insulate ourselves against the dangers.

How can you prevent pipes from freezing?

When the water in a pipe freezes, it can explode and cause significant damage to the interior of your home. Pipes that run along exterior walls and in attics and crawl spaces are the most vulnerable. To keep your pipes free of ice and freezing water, check out these tips from the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS).

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