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Winter weather conditions

There is a multitude of winter weather conditions and events that characterize winters here in North America. From gentle snowfalls to raging blizzards and whiteouts with drifting snow to ice fog and high winds with an arctic chill.

Then there are also localized weather events too such as lake effect snow. If you live near a body of water or a lake, there could be lots of snow dumped in the immediate area but not much elsewhere when the conditions are right.

Take your pick! It's quite a fascinating spectrum that comes every year.

Once the temperature falls straddles the freezing mark anything can and does happen. Winter weather conditions certainly affects how your day turns out, even if you are driving a short distance. Any winter travel can become a big challenge to say the least.


The range of snow can be anything from big, fluffy flakes that are light and easy to shovel to snow that's mixed with more moisture (like rain or sleet if the temperature is hovering around the freezing point) so it becomes heavy, wet, slushy snow. Then there are a few different variations between the two extremes. Pushing light, fluffy snow away from your sidewalks is relatively easy but actually shovelling heavy, wet snow is exhausting, as you'll find out.


When the winter weather conditions are just right, ice forms. At the very least, you'll need a handy scraper to scrape the ice off of all your vehicle's windows. Ice will form on steps, driveways, house roof edges, power lines, trees - anywhere really. Its weight can be enormous as well as widespread. With the right kind of conditions, ice can crush anything including collapsing buildings and destroying power line towers.

Black ice

A particularly dangerous winter weather condition is "black ice", which is really just ice forming on the road. You can see the black pavement through the ice so that's why it's called 'black ice'. No matter what, it's one slippery, dangerous road condition and one you can't really see on the road either unlike snow or grey slush.

You'll know, because you'll start to slide and the tires will lose traction and can't grip. By then, it's usually too late to avoid it as you're driving over it. Even at low speeds, it can be very dangerous. Most people's reaction is to jump hard on the brakes but this is the last thing you should do. There's another, better way to navigate black ice if you encounter this road danger in your travels.

High winds and drifting snow

High winds can certainly buffet vehicles, large trucks and road trains with attached trailers during winter weather. The whistling sound alone is enough to make you want take refuge somewhere. Combine this with drifting snow and it makes for a challenging driving experience.

You'll see drifting snow particularly along open roads or highways. Sometimes, if the snow is whipped up sufficiently, it will reduce your visibility until it clears - generally after a very short time. However, then there are true ...


Whiteouts is another winter weather condition that is particularly nasty when the snow blows across roads and highways creating a 'whiteout' effect that severely limits visibility. These snowdrifts build up on the pavement, around your house and anywhere where there's a barrier to aid in snow accumulating.

Emergency services close roads and highways when this happens, as it's really dangerous. Vehicle and truck pileups on highways are usually the end result of this weather event unfortunately.


Floods generally don't happen in winter although it's possible if there have been warmer temperatures for a while and snow and ice start to melt. The main exception being if your winter is more the rainy kind rather than the snowy winter kind.

Floods normally happen in the spring when the temperature steadily rises (at last!) and the huge volume of ice and snow starts to melt at a fairly rapid rate. Certain areas are prone to flooding every year and cause widespread and often, long-lasting damage to those who live near flood plains and rivers.

Flood Danger: It's a very dangerous time for children and dogs who tend to be fascinated by fast flowing rivers and streams so be particularly vigilant and watch them closely. There are tragedies like this every year unfortunately.

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Return to Winter Living Advisor from Winter Weather Conditions