New York City just got hit by a 'snow squall.' Here's what that really means — and looks like.

Frank Franklin II/APPedestrians observe a snow squall in Times Square December 18, 2019, in New York.

Many New Yorkers were met with a windy wall of snow this afternoon. The Empire State Building’s spire even became obscured from view by the storm clouds.

The strength and suddenness of a snow squall can leave you wondering what, exactly, a squall is. The term simply refers to a sudden onset of heavy snowfall accompanied by wind gusts. These short-lived yet intense storms can happen anytime between mid-October and late April.

The National Weather Service (NWS) issued a snow-squall warning for parts of New York City, New Jersey, and Connecticut on Wednesday afternoon. The warning mentioned “white out conditions in heavy, blowing snow and dangerous, life-threatening travel,” and advised residents to limit travel and stay indoors until the snow squall passed.

The description certainly fits this video posted by ABC News.

According to the NWS alert, which was issued at 3:23 p.m. ET, almost 16 million Americans were at risk of exposure, and major highways like I-278 and I-287 in New York and I-280 in New Jersey were all at risk.

Accuweather describes a snow squall as “a sudden violent wind, often accompanied by rain, hail or snow.” Merriam-Webster defines a squall as “a short-lived commotion,” which seems about right.

Snow squall nycFrank Franklin II/APA pedestrian stands in Times Square during a snow squall on December 18, 2019, in New York.

According to Accuweather, snow squalls form when air near the ground is much warmer than the air high above it. That leads to the development of towering clouds and then snow, like in the video below.

Brian Stelter, a media correspondent for CNN, posted a time lapse of the afternoon snow squall as it approached the Manhattan from New Jersey.

The 20-second time-lapse video shows the New York skyline disappearing into a snowy whiteout.

A video taken from the top of the One World Trade tower, meanwhile, captured the ominous white cloud of snow squall as it galumphed across downtown Manhattan.

The NWS’s snow squall warning was lifted at 4:15 p.m. local time.

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