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Extremely Dangerous Heat in the Western U.S. through Saturday; Heat Spreads East into Next Week

Extremely dangerous heat continues in the Western U.S. through Saturday with widespread Excessive Heat Warnings and Heat Advisories. Hazardous heat will expand over much of the central and eastern U.S. late this weekend into next week. Confidence is increasing in extremely dangerous heat, particularly for urban areas in the Southeast and East Coast beginning Monday. Read More >


Winter Weather Preparedness Week for Virginia

December 4 - 8, 2023


Please join us in promoting winter weather safety during this year's "Winter Weather Preparedness Week". The National Weather Service asks emergency management, public safety officials, local media and Weather-Ready Nation Ambassadors to help join forces in improving the nation's readiness, responsiveness, and overall resilience against extreme weather during the winter weather season.


Each day this week, a different topic will be covered. Click on the tabs below for more winter weather preparedness information.



Winter Season Outlook and winter weather terminology

This will provide you with some terms the National Weather Service uses to describe winter weather as well as the definitions of watches, warnings, and advisories issued for winter weather events.


temperature outlook


precipitation forecast


Watches are issued when a storm is in it's early stage of development, and may create conditions that may harm life and property. Hazardous winter weather is only a possibility, not a certainty. 

The following are the watch headlines issued for winter weather events: 

  • Winter Storm Watch is issued when heavy snow, damaging ice accumulations, or blizzard conditions are possible. Winter storm watches are typically issued 24 to 48 hours before a winter storm starts.  Watches are issued when at least 3 inches of snow, and/or 1/4 inch or more of ice accumulation is expected in a 12 to 24 hour period. 
  • Wind Chill Watch is issued when dangerously cold wind chills are possible typically in the next 12 to 48 hours. 


Warnings are issued when the threat to life and property is imminent or has already begun from severe winter weather.

The following are the warning headlines issued for winter weather events:

  • Winter Storm Warning is issued when hazardous winter weather in the form of heavy snow, freezing rain, sleet or any combination there of, is imminent or occurring. Winter storm warnings are typically issued 12 to 36 hours before the event is expected to start.
  • Ice Storm Warning is issued when damaging ice accumulations are expected within the next 12 to 36 hours.
  • Blizzard Warning is issued when sustained or gusty winds of 35 mph or more prevail, combined with falling or blowing snow, visibility of one quarter of a mile or less, and last for at least 3 hours.
  • Snow Squall Warning is issued for short duration intense bursts of snow and wind leading to whiteout visibility and possible flash freezes on roads.
  • Wind Chill Warning is issued when the combination of extreme cold and winds occur. This combination will result in frostbite, hypothermia, or even death when exposed in this type of condition for an extended period of time.  These are issued when wind chill values are expected to be less than -15F.  


Advisories are issued for less serious weather conditions that will not cause immediate threat to life and property. Advisories will be issued when weather conditions will impact motorists, outdoor activities, or public events. These events could become life-threatening if proper precautions are not taken.

The following are the advisory headlines issued for winter weather events:

  • Winter Weather Advisory is issued for accumulations of snow, lake effect snow, freezing rain, freezing drizzle, or sleet, that will create inconveniences. During an advisory, if caution is not exercised, life and property may be threatened.  Snow of a coasting to less than 3" and any amount of ice accretion. 
  • Wind Chill Advisory is issued when wind chill temperatures create inconvenience to life with prolonged exposure. If caution is not exercised, hypothermia and frostbite may occur.  Issued for wind chills values less than 0 degree but not colder than -14F.  


Winter infographics





Winter Storms affecting Virginia

The most dangerous winter weather systems for Virginia, which can produce major amounts of snow and ice, are strong coastal low pressure systems known as nor'easters.  These types of storms can impact the region a couple times a season and when the temperatures are cold enough, these types of storms can produce big snowfall events.  For example, On January 22 - 23, 2016, the commonwealth was impacted by a nor'easter with heavy snow with some locations in Northern Virginia seeing up to 4 Feet of snow.  At the same time, strong winds along the coast produced near Blizzard Conditions.  The maps below show just how much snow fell with this storm.




Winter storms can make driving and walking extremely dangerous.  The aftermath of a major winter storm can have a devastating impact for days or even weeks. Winter storms can be deceptive killers because most deaths are indirectly related to the storm.  People die in traffic accidents on icy roads, have heart attacks while shoveling snow, or succumb to fires or carbon monoxide while trying to heat their home improperly.  With proper planning and preparation, you can limit or even mitigate the impacts from winter storms. 

Lastly for today, The National Weather Service needs accurate snowfall measurements during winter storms.  Those accurate snowfall measurements help us to adjust continually update the forecast and warnings during the event.  Are you willing to be a snow observer to help the NWS?  Below is graphic that shows you how to take an accurate snow measurement.  Once you have your report, you can send it to your local NWS office in Wakefield, VA by:


Measuring Snow


Winter infographics



Excessive Cold and Preparing your home for winter

Cold weather is a fact of winter.  With the cold temperatures comes an increase in the number of house fires.  House fires resulting from heating material within the home ranks second for the most deaths and property loss.  Chimney fires are the number one cause of home heating fires and typically the result of a poorly maintained chimney where creosote is allowed to build up. Space heaters are typically involved in 25 percent of home heating fires and account for 74 percent of the deaths.  Be sure to test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and replace any broken detectors and dead batteries. 



Severe winter storms can produce conditions which can isolate you in your home for several days.  Prolonged loss of power can severely limit your ability to heat your home.  Also obtaining supplies, food and other necessities can be hampered or prevented by poor road conditions.  Make sure to stock an emergency supply of food and water prior to the onset of a winter storm.  Include food items which require no cooking such as canned meats, peanut butter and other non-perishables.  Also do not forget to have necessary medicines and baby items on hand.  A three to five day supply of food and medicine is generally sufficient.  A lot of these items may already be in your home from your hurricane kit. 

Example home emergency supply kit


Preparation Kit


Winter infographics






Dangers associated with freezing rain and sleet

Ice falling in the form of freezing rain is particularly dangerous and poses a variety of problems.  The ability of freezing rain to accumulate on nearly every surface, including trees, power lines, and bridges, makes it one of the most dangerous forms of winter weather.  As little as a quarter of an inch of freezing rain can create widespread power outages.  Just 2 winters ago, central and southern portions of Virginia saw one of the worst ice storms in the last 20 years.  On February 12 - 13, 2021 a long period of light to moderate rain developed and fell into areas with surface temperatures around 30 degrees.  This lead to trees and powerlines being coated in ice and eventually lead to widespread power outages that took nearly two weeks to be fully repaired in some locations



         Power Outages at peak of storm                        Icing in Crewe, VA                         Icing in Lunenburg County, VA
               (credit:                     (credit: @wx_Jpeg - Twitter)                   (credit: @wx_Jpeg - Twitter)

When driving, ice can be very difficult to recognize.  The roadway may appear to be wet when in reality when appears to be water may actually be ice.  If the temperature outside is below freezing, ice can form on the roads, especially on bridges and overpasses.  When encountering ice, do not panic and do not stomp on your brakes.  It is safer to slowly decelerate to a stop. 


Winter infographics






Driving in winter weather

Seventy-five percent of all winter weather related deaths occur on the road, either in accidents or by people becoming stranded. When the weather is bad and driving conditions are poor, the best bet is to stay at home


  1. Make sure your car is in good running condition. Make sure that your battery, antifreeze, windshield wipers, ignition and thermostat are all in good working order. Be sure your tires have enough tread. Replace any of these items if necessary.
  2. If you must go out when snow and ice are on the ground, let someone know your destination and when you plan to arrive. Also take a cell phone with you if possible. 
  3. Clean snow and ice off all parts of your car before you drive away.
  4. Keep your gas tank as full as possible when snow and ice are forecast. This will not only give you added peace of mind, it also increases the weight of your car and this will provide additional traction.
  5. Keep the following basic items in your car - windshield scraper and brush, booster/jumper cables, a tow chain or rope, bag of sand or salt, blankets, flashlight, first aid kit and road map.
  6. Overall drive slow. Driving at even posted speeds is extremely dangerous when snow and ice are on the road. Many vehicles will lose traction especially at higher speeds resulting in serious accident and vehicle rollovers. 
  7. Steer your car into the skid. If your vehicle loses traction and begins to skid, steer the front tires into the direction of the skid. Never hit your brakes as this will result in a more serious skid and spinning of the vehicle. When your vehicle skids keep your cool and remain calm. Again driving at slower speeds will help you recover from a skid. 





Winter infographics





Winter Weather Video Series - Weather You Want to Know (or not)



  1.  The National Winter Outlook & Us 

  2.  Local Climatology 

  3.  Snow Storm Patterns 

  4.  How to Check Your Forecast 

  5.  Snow Types 

  6.  How to Measure Snow 

  7.  Frequently Asked Questions 



Frequently Asked Questions

  1.  Christmas Weather – What is normal?  Chances for a White Christmas? 

    See Our Climate Section for Holiday Climatology on Christmas Day, or see the links below.
            Salisbury, MD
    National White Christmas Climatology information 

  2. What are the biggest snows to impact...

            See Our Climate Section site-specific snow climatology, or see the links below.
            Salisbury, MD
  3. What is the correct way to measure snow and ice?


    You can also send your snow or ice report to NWS Wakefield using our Storm Report Form!


  4. What items should be included in a vehicle Winter Storm Kit?

    Get more information at build your winter storm kit and prepare for cold weather.

  5. What is the polar vortex?

    The polar vortex is a large area of low pressure and cold air surrounding both of the Earth’s poles. It ALWAYS exists near the poles, but weakens in summer and strengthens in winter. The term "vortex" refers to the counter-clockwise flow of air that helps keep the colder air near the Poles. Many times during winter in the northern hemisphere, the polar vortex will expand, sending cold air southward with the jet stream (see graphic above). This occurs fairly regularly during wintertime and is often associated with large outbreaks of Arctic air in the United States. 

    Get more information at: Polar Vortex FAQ.

  6. What is Wind Chill, and how is it calculated?

    Wind Chill is how cold people or animals feel when outside. Wind chill is based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin caused by wind and cold. As the wind increases, it draws heat from the body, driving down skin temperature and eventually the internal body temperature. Therefore, the wind makes it FEEL much colder. If the temperature is 0°F and the wind is blowing at 15 mph, the wind chill is -19°F. At this wind chill temperature, exposed skin can freeze in 30 minutes. The wind chill temperature is calculated using the following formula:

    Wind chill (ºF) = 35.74 + 0.6215T - 35.75(V^0.16) + 0.4275T(V^0.16)

    Where: T = Air Temperature (F)
    V = Wind Speed (mph)
    ^ = raised to a power (exponential)

    Wind chill Temperature is only defined for temperatures at or below 50°F and wind speeds above 3 mph. Bright sunshine may increase the wind chill temperature by 10°F to 18°F.

    More information on Wind Chill is included at Wind Chill FAQs.


  7. What is the difference between frostbite and hypothermia?


  8. What is meant by black ice?

  9. Why do bridges and overpasses freeze before other surfaces? 


  10. What is a snow squall, and what is the difference between a snow squall and a snow storm?

    The difference between a snow squall and a snowstorm really just comes down to the duration of the event. Snow squalls are usually very short-lived (on the order of 30-60 minutes) and extremely intense. A snow storm could last for several hours or even days. More information is available at Snow Squall FAQ.



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You can also contact:

Eric Seymour ( for additional information about Virginia's 2023 Winter Weather Awareness Week.