KEY POINTS

  • A snow squall is an intense, short-lived burst of heavy snowfall that leads to a quick reduction in visibilities for motorists
  • A snow squall can occur when cold air blows over a warm body of water
  • A snow squall hammered parts of Iowa on Monday and dropped up to nine inches of snow near the state capital of Des Moines

Parts of Iowa and Minnesota have been hit by snow storms this week, a rarity even in that portion of the Upper Midwest. On Monday, the central portion of Iowa was hit with a rare "snow squall."

What exactly is a snow squall? 

A snow squall is an intense, short-lived burst of heavy snowfall that leads to a quick reduction in visibilities and is often accompanied by gusty winds. On account of the accompanying wind gusts and dropping temperatures, it can create dangerously icy road conditions.

Visibility is typically poor during these storms and can delay transportation.

"The combination of quick [impact on] visibilities and sudden slick conditions on roadways can often lead to high-speed wrecks," The National Weather Society stated.

A snow squall can occur when cold air blows over a warm body of water. With global warming fluctuating temperatures at a high rate, snow squalls may be more of a growing concern than previously imagined. 

These intense snowstorms are occurring much earlier in the season this year. 

What was supposed to be a dusting of snow Monday morning turned into a full-blown central Iowa snowstorm. A snow squall hammered parts of the state and dropped up to 9 inches of snow in parts of Polk County. The Iowa State Patrol responded to 31 weather-related crashes and 24 calls to assist motorists in the area around the state capital of Des Moines.

The first squall warning was issued to Iowa in December 2019. However, up until Monday, those were the only snow squall warnings ever issued in Iowa.

Iowa isn't the only area being affected by these unusual storms. Minnesota is bracing for a snowstorm that is anticipated to hit late Tuesday. While snow in Minnesota is common, a storm this early in the season is quite rare. 

The Twin Cities metro area is expecting 3-5 inches of snow. That specific area has never encountered more than three inches of snow this early in the season.

Snow squalls seem to be occurring at a higher rate. In 2019, many New Yorkers were caught off-guard by a quick-hitting snow storm. Central Park was left with 0.4 inches of snow, and Twitter users posted time-lapse videos of the squall moving in and quickly enveloping skyscrapers.