National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

NWS Hazard Simplification Project: Winter Season 2017-2018



Hazard Simplification: Winter Weather Headline Changes 2017-2017 Winter Season

A short video discussing the upcoming headline changes


Hazard Simplification General Information 

  • The National Weather Service has been working to simplify products to better meet the needs of partners and the public. This project is called “Hazard Simplification”.

  • Proposals for simplification were developed based on multiple engagements that included focus groups, surveys and an interdisciplinary Workshop held in 2015.

  • Participants across all efforts included NWS employees, the public, broadcasters, emergency managers, social scientists, and other members of the Weather, Water and Climate Enterprise.

  • The first changes to the NWS Watch, Warning and Advisory (WWA) system will be implemented on October 1, 2017.

  • We are implementing these changes through consolidation and reformatting of products. (Use Graphic 1).

    • Consolidation means reducing the number of WWA hazard products

    • Reformatting means shortening, focusing and clarifying the body text within the WWA messages.  This will feature a consistent message format that addresses What, Where, and When and recommended Precautionary/Preparedness Actions

  • An external partners’ webinar, where we presented these changes, took place on May 31, 2017.

  • The Service Change Notification (SCN) was released in June 2017.

  • More information on the Hazard Simplification Project can be found at

Winter Weather Product Changes

  • Starting October 1, 2017, NWS winter weather products will be consolidated as follows:  

  • Consolidate Lake Effect Snow Advisory and Freezing Rain Advisory into Winter Weather Advisory

  • Consolidate Lake Effect Snow Watch and Blizzard Watch into Winter Storm Watch

  • Consolidate Lake Effect Snow Warning into Winter Storm Warning at the following sites:

    • Duluth, Green Bay, Milwaukee, Chicago, Grand Rapids, Marquette, North Central Lower Michigan, Detroit, Northern Indiana

  • In addition, all of the above products will be reformatted into a consistent message format as: “What”, “Where”, “When”, “Additional Details” and “Precautionary/ Preparedness Actions”

  • This new format will be applied to all winter weather WWA products, including wind chill products


Why are you removing hazard specific products such as “Freezing Rain Advisory?"

It's true that the hazard specific headlines will become more generic in the Watch  and Advisory terms.  However, "Advisory" is the most poorly understood of the WWA terms overall so, for many people, it's not necessarily clear from the headline what level of impact is expected without going into the message anyway.

Why are you reducing the number of NWS hazard products?

One of the primary project goals is to reduce the need to rely on "product headlines" to distinguish among the various impacts we experience across the country. Such reliance has now resulted in some 127 products across our hazard suite which we expect our users to understand.  Instead, the new "What" section of the message will enable forecasters to express exactly what they wish to say in terms of hazard and impact - and in plain English.  

Tell me more about the benefits of removing “Freezing Rain Advisory.   I’m still not convinced.

Going to just one Winter Weather Advisory eliminates the need to cancel and reissue products for hazards that have a similar impact.  For example, forecasters sometimes cancel a Freezing Rain Advisory and reissue a Winter Weather Advisory for minor changes in winter hazard combinations. These types of cancellations and re-issuances can be very confusing to users - and will no longer be needed.  Winter weather often includes a mixture of hazards from snow, sleet, freezing rain and blowing snow. Individual products for each hazard make it more difficult for users to understand the changing nature of winter events, and are even more challenging for our forecasters in the current product paradigm.

Why remove “Blizzard Watch” and Lake Effect Snow Watch”?  These are very important hazards!

Going to one Winter Storm Watch eliminates the situations where forecasters may wait to issue any Watch at all because they are uncertain as to whether they should issue a Blizzard Watch or a Winter Storm Watch blizzard conditions are possible. Blizzard conditions are extremely difficult to forecast and may be highly localized in nature. Now, forecasters will be able to issue one "Winter Storm Watch" just as soon as they see the potential for significant winter weather - and they'll be able to express “blizzard conditions possible” in the "What" section.  Forecasters will also be able to indicate the possibility of lake effect snow within the "What" section, as heavy snow will have a similar impact and call to action regardless of its genesis.  Also, as with  Blizzard conditions, lake effect snow is often highly localized.  Forecasters will be able to flexibly and easily update specific hazard and impact expectations by editing the “What” section of the message, with no message cancellation and re-issuance needed.

What are are some other benefits of the reformatting and consolidation?

National policy will be updated to reflect consistent messaging for the hazard hazard expectations within the first phrase of the what section.   So, for example, all issuances where forecasters would have issued a “Winter Storm Watch” in the past, the new “Winter Storm Watch” will be required to begin with the phrase “Blizzard conditions possible”.  Similarly, all current Freezing Rain Advisories will begin with the phrase “Light Freezing Rain expected”.  This will enable our partners to parse on these phrases for use as needed.Also, as we continue to consolidate, our messages will increasingly be standardized into a common format, making it easy for users to find information quickly.

What are the HazSimp plans after winter 2017-2018?

Starting late winter/early spring of 2018 we will address the following consolidation and reformatting for our Flood Products:

  • Consolidate Flash Flood Watch into Flood Watch

  • Reformat all Flood products (including River Point products) into a “What, Where, When, Additional Details, and Precautionary/Preparedness Actions” format

  • After that, we plan to consider additional hazards for consolidation and reformatting moving forward.  For example, we will be examining Marine and coastal products, as well as products for non-precipitating hazards such as extreme temperature and wind.  The goal is to consolidate to as few products as possible to support simplification goals, and also to shift focus from the current hazard products to a messaging paradigm that focuses on impacts.

  • And BEYOND that: Another project goal is to research possible alternatives to the "Advisory" and "Watch" terms that are simply plain English "calls to attention" to indicate something other than fair weather is expected.  Consolidating the suite down to as few products as possible supports this goal, as the new headline would focus on the level of attention needed rather than the hazard, while the "What" would provide the details and impacts forecast.  A generalizable survey will be issued soon that will assess options for change.  If these options test positively, additional prototypes will be developed for consideration by the community.

I still have more questions...

Contact the National Weather Service in Northern Indiana, at 574-834-1104. Alternatively, you can email us at, or reach out to us on Facebook and Twitter (@NWS IWX).