Wintering Weather – Winter Alert Criteria

Weather Headlines

Knowing winter weather alerts, and what they mean can help you stay safe during the winter months.

A Winter Storm Watch means it is not happening yet, but conditions are favorable for something to occure. A Winter Storm Warning means it is happening and it is life threatening. A Winter Weather Advisory means it is happening, it is making an impact, but it is not threatening to life and more of a nuisance.

Now in the winter for these alerts to be issued by the National Weather Service, certain thresholds need to be met.

A Winter Storm Watch is typically issued 24 to 48 hours out form a potential event. It’s purpose is to give you enough time to prepare. There are three things that happen to a watch. It could be upgraded to an advisory or a warning, or if things change, it could just disappear.

A Winter Weather Advisory is issued if we could expect 3 inches or more of snowfall or a trace of ice in a 12 hour span of time.

A Winter Storm Warning is issued if 6 or more inches of snow is expected to fall in 12 hours, or if 8 or more inches of snow falls in 24 hours. A warning can also be issued if we are expecting a quarter inch or more of ice in a 12 hour span for most of our area. The threshold for Elk and Cameron counties is higher, its a half an inch of ice or more in a 12 hour span.

A Wind Chill Advisory also has different criteria across our area. It is issued when wind chills drop to lower than ten degrees below zero in Indiana and Jefferson County, while the res of our counties wind chills need to drop to fifteen degrees below zero or more.

A Wind Chill Warning is issued for all counties when wind chills are 25 degrees below zero or more.

One of the most dangerous for motorists in our area is a Snow Squall Warning. A snow squall is defined as a quick burst of snow with gusty winds that can reduce visibility down to less than a quarter mile. While not enough for a Winter Storm Warning, these cause the most accidents on the roads, including major pileups on I-80. With no set criteria for this type of warning, this is difficult for the National Weather Service to issue. If this is issued, take it seriously and make sure to find a safe place to park your car to wait out the short lived burst of snow.

Blizzard Warnings are the most misunderstood warnings. A blizzard warning can be issued even if the snow has stopped falling. For a Blizzard Warning, you need sustained or frequent wind gusts at 35 mph or stronger with falling or blowing snow. These conditions need to last for at least 3 hours.

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