Snow squalls have impacted the area over the last few days… but what exactly are they?

Severe Weather

EAST PROVIDENCE, RI (WPRI) – Well we haven’t seen any major snowstorms across the area, but we have seen a few days of snow squalls.

Snow squalls are very reminiscent of summertime thunderstorms for a few reasons.

The first being snow squalls are very localized and are short in duration. The movements are often northwest to southeast, as was the case with this week.

Like thunderstorms can produce heavy rain and gusty winds… snow squalls can produce heavy snow and gusty winds.

The durations are equivalent as they last anywhere from as short as 15 minutes to 45 minutes.

As a weak disturbance(s) move across the area up in the atmosphere, there is enough instability to allow cumulus clouds to form. When you add in this energy moving through and a somewhat moist atmosphere with some available moisture, you can get snow squalls to pop.

Often times, we see these snow squalls as a result of lake-effect snow off of the Great Lakes, if they manage to survive the trip across the northeast and New England.

Typically, in winter months it’s hard to get enough instability and cloud growth due to the dry and stable winter air. However, as we have seen over the last few days… it’s certainly not impossible.

Snow squalls can be quick and potent causing white-out conditions while on the roadways. They typically bring moderate to heavy snow and can produce anywhere from a coating to an inch or two of snow in a matter of minutes.

Above are some of the impacts that come with snow squalls. As mentioned, white out conditions, gusty winds, low visibility, and light snow accumulations are typically the ones that are MOST common.

However, if a snow squall is intense enough, a Snow Squall Warning may be issued. This is very similar to a Severe Thunderstorm Warning except this would be for damaging winds with heavy snow and white out conditions rather than heavy rain, damaging winds, and flooding.

The good news about snow squalls is that they don’t last long but in the most intense squalls, thunder and lightning is possible. However, atmospheric dynamics have to be just right for this to occur.

If you are ever caught in a snow squall the safest bet is to reduce speed and wait it out as they move quickly.

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