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"Буран со снегом", "метель", "вьюга", "пурга" - What's the difference here?

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Метель is a starting point for all other terms. It is a name of a strong wind that carries snow horizontally, either picked from earth or the one that was falling but did not touched the ground. It is also used as a term in meteorology - all other words are expressed there as метель with different modifications (верховая, общая, слабая, сильная, сверхсильная, etc.).

Вьюга is a метель, but strong one. Most dictionaries define it as "сильная метель, снежная буря". Wikipedia's meteorogically-based article that dasblinkenlight posted a link to, defines вьюга in such way: "вьюга - сильная, как правило, низовая метель" (this means that usually snow is not falling from the sky).

Буран is also a метель, but happens in steppes. It conforms with the origins of the word - it was borrowed from people that lived mostly in steppes:

БУРАН. Заимств. не позднее XVIII в. из тюрк. яз., где буран — суф. производное от бур "крутить, сбивать".

In some regions it is synonym to strong метель, but in others the key feature of the буран is that it can happen even without falling snow - the wind just carries the snow from the ground with the clear sky. Looks like in your case "буран со снегом" is the latter case of usage of the word буран - it carries the snow from the ground, but "со снегом" tells that the snow is falling from the sky as well.

Already referenced Wikipedia article, however, tells that "буран - сильная общая метель в степи при низкой температуре", this definition conforms with буран's first case and even states it is so strong that one can't see the sky through the flying snow. Anyway, most sources agree that this word is used mostly in Asian part of Russia.

Пурга is similar to second case of буран - but it happens in forestless plains. It may also happen without falling snow and when the sky is clear. The word is borrowed from Finnish language and is used mostly in nothern part of Russia. The Wiktionary's definition of the word is: "сильная низовая метель, преимущественно возникающая в равнинных безлесных местностях при вторжениях холодного воздуха". This also means that the wind that causes this type of метель is always cold - colder that the general mass of the air. So, it is usual that someone describing the weather will use both пурга and холодный ветер in their speech.

Note also, that you can use both "сильная метель" and "слабая метель", but I can hardly imagine "слабая вьюга", "слабый буран", "слабая пурга" (and so does Google as well). All these words can only be strong: "сильная вьюга", "сильная пурга", "сильный буран".

  • Also in the expression "пургу гнать" this word can not be interchanged with any of those synonyms. =) This doesn't refer to your answer, which is excellent, it's just a remark. =) – petajamaja Jul 6 '13 at 10:07
  • @petajamaja Maybe you are right, but I have never heard anything like "гнать вьюгу", etc. – Artemix Jul 8 '13 at 6:58
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These words represent a sample of some fifty words used in different parts of Russia to describe snowstorms.

  • "Метель" is the official word used in meteorology,
  • "Буран со снегом" usually describes a snowstorm in steppes with falling snow,
  • "Вьюга" usually describes a severe ground blizzard with little or no falling snow,
  • "Пурга" usually describes a ground blizzard as well, perhaps less severe than "вьюга".

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