Parts of the East Coast just got hit by a 'snow squall' — here's what that is

  • The National Weather Service issued a “snow-squall” warning in New York City and parts of New England on Wednesday afternoon.
  • A snow squall is a short, intense burst of snowfall that reduces visibility and comes with gusty winds.
  • As many as 40 vehicles reportedly crashed on Route 222 in the Berk County area in Pennsylvania because of the snow-squall conditions and low visibility.
  • This snow squall arrived amid a polar-vortex event.

New Yorkers looking out the window this afternoon were met with a windy wall of snow.

That was a “snow squall” – a sudden onset of heavy snowfall accompanied by wind gusts. The National Weather Service (NWS) issued a snow-squall warning for residents of parts of New York and New England, advising them to limit travel and stay indoors until it passes.

The warning mentioned “heavy and blowing snow with wind gusts up to 50 mph causing whiteout conditions, zero visibility and life-threatening travel conditions.”

The threat doesn’t seem like it was overstated.

The NWS suggested people pull over or exit highways before the snow squall arrived, but the warning didn’t come soon enough for drivers on Route 222 in Pennsylvania. According to local reports, as many as 40 vehicles crashed during a blinding snow squall before 1:30 p.m. EST.

Here’s what driving conditions in Buffalo, New York, looked like Tuesday evening during a snow squall:

The snow squall hit during a week of extreme winter weather. Much of the continental US is experiencing a polar-vortex event that is bringing record cold. Parts of Minnesota saw thermostats drop to minus 66 degrees Fahrenheit on Tuesday night. The Chicago NWS office reported windchill temperatures in the range of minus 45 to minus 55 degrees Fahrenheit this morning.

The cold has prompted school and university closures, flight cancellations, and the suspension of mail-delivery services in the Midwest.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.