You’ve heard of snow showers, snow storms, and snow flurries, but what are snow squalls?

The term is defined by the National Weather Service as an intense, but limited in duration, period of moderate to heavy snow, accompanied by strong, gusty winds and even lightning. These periods of intense snow are known for creating sudden, white out conditions and significant bursts of snow accumulation at times. That paired with falling, freezing temperatures can create icy roads in minutes.

Image courtesy:

Snow Squall VS. Snow Storm 

Snow squalls are different from your typical snowstorms in that they don’t last as long, and are much more intense. During a typical snow storm we expect a large, synoptic scale system to move through an area to produce a period of snow over a time period of 24-48 hours. Snow squalls don’t work like that as they are usually associated with a quick passing cold front, or strong burst of energy that produces a patch of heavy snow lasting several minutes, but less than an hour long. 

Snow Squall Warnings

Snow Squall Warnings were recently created and introduced by the National Weather Service to alert the public in the event of a sudden snow squall event to occur. The warnings are issued as an emergency alert on phones in the same way a severe thunderstorm or tornado warning would be. Here is an example of one issued once for our area:

It’s because of their placement and quick travel across an area that snow squalls are a huge hazard to drivers and commuters, and are known to have caused many deadly accidents as they catch people off guard. This makes it important to know when they are occurring and how to act if you’re caught in one.


Image courtesy:

Prepare for fast changing conditions such as sharp drops in visibility, blowing snow and gusty winds, icy roads, and major slow downs while driving if one is to pass overhead. You should avoid travel if a snow squall warning is issued for your area, and wait until the conditions are safe and passable as it can be nearly impossible to drive successfully in a squall. Be sure to slow down or pull over until the event passes. 

Here are some quick tips for being caught in a squall:

  • Slow down and reduce your speed
  • Turn on your headlights and hazards
  • Allow as much distance as possible between you and other vehicles 
  • Pull over if possible, or if conditions become too unsafe to continue travel

Stay Safe!