18:56 GMT27 January 2020
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    As the height of rush hour began Wednesday afternoon in the New York tri-state area, local residents were hit with a sudden weather event known as a snow squall, which is characterized as a brief but powerful blast of heavy snow accompanied by strong wind gusts.

    A snow squall warning from the US National Weather Service (NWS) was in effect in the New York City tri-state area until roughly 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, marking the first such warning of the 2019 winter season.

    ​The warning applied to northeastern New Jersey, New York City, Long Island and southern Connecticut and affected some 13 million people, according to Weather.com. 

    ​​According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) - the parent agency of the NWS - a snow squall is defined as an “intense, but limited duration, period of moderate to heavy snowfall, accompanied by strong, gusty surface winds and possibly lightning (generally moderate to heavy snow showers).” Snow squalls are different from snow storms because they “fizzle out quickly” and “typically last less than an hour,” the NOAA explains on its website.

    ​​“The sudden white-out conditions combined with falling temperatures produces icy roads in just a few minutes. Squalls can occur where there is no large-scale winter storm in progress and might only produce minor accumulations,” the description adds.

    In its alert, the NWS described the snow squall as moving southeastward at 30 mph, also warning that it would cause wind gusts of 40 mph.

    ​The NWS introduced snow squall warnings last year. “This new warning aims to bring better situational awareness to drivers and mitigate impacts related to these squalls,” the service wrote in a January 2018 press release.

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