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After a story aired on our TV station recently about a big winter storm, one of the camera guys asked me “what did they mean by drifting snow?” I suppose that’s a question one would only hear in places like South Texas or Florida. We know all about things like storm surge from a hurricane, but virtually nothing about snow. So, for the snow challenged, here we go!
The National Weather Service defines a snow drift as:
“…an uneven distribution of snowfall/snow depth caused by strong surface winds. Drifting snow may occur during or after a snowfall. Drifting snow is usually associated with blowing snow.”
Light snow – or “drier” snow – tends to be the most driftable. It can be wind blown as it is falling or after it has reached the ground. The blowing snow then falls to the ground where the wind is blocked by something like a fence or a house.
Snow drifts can become quite large. I will never forget the blizzard of the winter of January 1978 in Indiana. It was the first time Indiana University had cancelled classes because of weather in more than 40 years. I don’t remember how cold it was, but I remember the wind gusts to over 50 miles per hour and the nearly two feet of snow we received. Snow drifts were measured in feet. I saw piles of snow more than eight feet high. Since classes were cancelled, we were free to experience the blizzard. Bundled up, my friend Greg and I took off exploring the campus. When we found a big drift, we’d simply dive into it and disappear beneath the mountain of snow. I think it was the fourth snow drift which turned out to be not a snow drift at all. It was a Volkswagen. That hurt. A lot.
For the benefit of our southern readers, a snow drift forms a lot like a sand dune on the beach.
Those of us raised in the north (anything north of, say, Houston or Jacksonville) assume everybody knows about blowing and drifting snow, cold weather, wind chill and such. But when northerners are dealing with such unpleasant things, folks in the south tend to be relaxing on white sand beaches, sipping tropical drinks, worrying about when they need to put on the next coat of sunscreen. That’s why I moved to South Texas!
I'm a TV weatherman in south Texas. I get blamed for the bad weather, but I also get credit for the beautiful days. I absolutely love my job!