National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce
 

Winter weather related Warnings, Watches and Advisories are issued by your local National Weather Service office. Each office knows the local area and will issue Warnings, Watches or Advisories based on local criteria. For example, the amount of snow that triggers a “Winter Storm Warning” in the Northern Plains is typically much higher than the amount needed to trigger a “Winter Storm Warning” in the Southeast.

+Warnings: Take Action!

+Watches: Be Prepared

  • Blizzard Watches are issued when there is a potential for falling and/or blowing snow with strong winds and extremely poor visibilities. This can lead to whiteout conditions and make travel very dangerous.
  • Winter Storm Watches are issued when conditions are favorable for a significant winter storm event (heavy sleet, heavy snow, ice storm, heavy snow and blowing snow or a combination of events.)
  • Wind Chill Watches are issued when there is the potential for a combination of extremely cold air and strong winds to create dangerously low wind chill values. See the NWS Wind Chill Chart.
  • Lake Effect Snow Watches are issued when conditions are favorable for a lake effect snow event. A potential exists for heavy accumulation of lake effect snow. Travel and commerce may be significantly affected.

+Advisories: Be Aware

  • Winter Weather Advisories are issued when snow, blowing snow, ice, sleet, or a combination of these wintry elements is expected but conditions should not be hazardous enough to meet warning criteria.  Be prepared for winter driving conditions and possible travel difficulties. Use caution when driving.
  • Freezing Rain Advisories are issued when light ice accumulation (freezing rain and/or freezing drizzle) is expected but will not reach warning criteria. Expect a glaze on roads resulting in hazardous travel. Slow down and use caution while driving because even trace amounts of ice on roads can be dangerous.
  • Wind Chill Advisories are issued when low wind chill temperatures are expected but will not reach local warning criteria. Extremely cold air and strong winds will combine to generate low wind chill readings. If you must venture outdoors, take precautions against frostbite and hypothermia. See the NWS Wind Chill Chart.
  • Lake Effect Snow Advisory are issued for widespread or localized lake effect snowfall accumulation (and blowing snow) remaining below warning criteria. Expects lake effect snow showers and assume travel will be difficult in some areas. Some localized snow bands will be intense enough to produce several inches in a few areas with sudden restrictions in visibility.

Here are some more key terms to understand:

  • Freezing Rain: Rain that freezes when it hits the ground; creating a coating of ice on roads, walkways, trees and power lines.
  • Sleet: Rain that turns to ice pellets before reaching the ground. Sleet also causes moisture on roads to freeze and become slippery.
  • Wind Chill: A measure of how cold people feel due to the combined effect of wind and cold temperatures; the Wind Chill Index is based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin. Both cold temperatures and wind remove heat from the body; as the wind speed increases during cold conditions, a body loses heat more quickly. Eventually, the internal body temperature also falls and hypothermia can develop. Animals also feel the effects of wind chill; but inanimate objects, such as vehicles and buildings, do not. They will only cool to the actual air temperature, although much faster during windy conditions.

Find the current forecast at weather.gov.