WATCHES, WARNINGS, AND ADVISORIES: DECODING WINTER WEATHER ALERTS

By Amy Howell Hirt
Decoding Winter Weather Alerts
As temperatures fall, the risk of heavy snow or freezing rain rises across much of the country. To safely weather whatever hazardous conditions that the season has in store, it's important to understand the Winter Weather Alerts, issued by the National Weather Service (NWS).

Winter Storm Outlook
Issued prior to a Winter Storm Watch, a Winter Storm Outlook indicates that hazardous conditions are possible in the next two to five days. The best thing to do during this winter weather alert is to be informed; stay tuned in to local media or a weather service for updates for changes in the alert.

Winter Storm Watch
A Winter Storm Watch is issued when conditions, including heavy snow, freezing rain or sleet are possible in the more immediate future—within 36 to 48 hours. Watches can also be reissued if there is a change in the expected timing, location or conditions, and either turn into Warnings or Advisories, or are cancelled. It is also important to be aware for possible updates during a watch should the storm escalate so that you’re able to prepare.

Winter Weather Advisory
A Winter Weather Advisory is issued when forecasters expect an area to be significantly impacted by accumulations of snow, freezing rain or sleet. Conditions will likely cause inconveniences, but should not be life-threatening, provided that residents exercise caution. It’s smart to be prepared by ensuring you have supplies at home, and stay off the roads if possible. It’s also a good idea to begin to plan for the development of hazardous winter conditions—consider stocking up on essentials in case of an emergency.

Winter Storm Warning
A Winter Storm Watch can be upgraded into a Winter Storm Warning, which means that heavy snow or freezing rain is "imminent," and severe conditions have begun or are expected to begin within 24 hours. Take immediate action to ensure your safety and avoid driving on the roads if possible. Should you need to drive, ensure you’re prepared with a car emergency kit.

Blizzard Warning
While the exact criteria varies from state to state, the NWS issues a Blizzard Warning when sustained or gusty winds of 35 mph or greater will likely combine with significant amounts of snow creating dangerous and severe conditions. Visibilities of a quarter-mile or less, deep snow drifts and dangerous wind chills are expected to last at least three hours. During a Blizzard Warning it is advised not to travel.

To stay ahead of the storm this winter, sign up to receive winter storm alert notifications from a reliable local media source, or check weather.gov for alerts in your area.


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