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What's a snow squall? Cellphone alert confuses New York City

Upstate New York doesn't have a monopoly on snow, as it turns out.

Sometimes, New York City gets some itself, and that can sow confusion and alarm among downstaters.

This was the case last month, shortly before the holidays, when cellphones throughout the New York City area buzzed and beeped with a warning of a particular type of winter storm.

The National Weather Service sent two emergency alerts, at 3:30 p.m. and again at 4 p.m., on Dec. 18 warning of a snow squall: "Sudden whiteouts. Icy Roads. Slow Down!”

This drove a lot of New Yorkers to social media to ask why they got the alert and, on a related note, what the heck is a snow squall?

A snow squall, according to the weather service, "is an intense short-lived burst of heavy snowfall that leads to a quick reduction in visibilities and is often accompanied by gusty winds."

The service has started issuing cellphone alerts for snow squalls because they can produce harrowing travel conditions. Twitter and Facebook users shared compelling videos and photos of the intense storm system as it moved through the New York City area.

We're ready to introduce downstate to more winter weather terms, like "lake-effect snow," "October storm," "snowmaggedon" and "six pack."

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