What Do Winter Weather Watches & Warnings Mean?
Do you know the difference between a storm watch, warning, or advisory? It can mean all the difference in the time you have to prepare for the storm with at least three days of food, water and emergency supplies to stay at home and keep off the roads.
The National Weather Service (NWS) issues watches, warnings and advisories for all winter weather hazards. Here’s what they mean and what to do. Use the information below to make an informed decision on your risk and what actions to take.
- Winter Storm Watch: Be Prepared. A watch means that severe winter conditions, such as heavy snow or sleet or an ice storm, may affect your area, but where, when and how much is still uncertain. NWS issues a watch to provide 12 to 36 hours notice of possible severe winter weather. A watch is intended to provide enough lead time for you to prepare.
- Winter Storm Warning: Take Action! NWS issues a warning when its scientists forecast 4 or more inches of snow or sleet in the next 12 hours, 6 or more inches in 24 hours, or 1/4 inch or more of ice accumulation. Travel will become difficult or impossible in some situations. Delay your travel plans until conditions improve.
- Winter Weather Advisory: Be Aware. An advisory informs you that winter weather conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences that may be hazardous. If you exercise caution, advisory situations shouldn’t become life-threatening.
- Blizzard Warning lets you know that snow and strong winds will combine to produce a blinding snow (near zero visibility), deep drifts, and life-threatening wind chill.
Remember to listen to your local officials’ recommendations and to a NOAA Weather Radio, which broadcasts alerts and warnings directly from the National Weather Service. Learn more by visiting the NWS Winter Storm Safety page.
Winter Weather Awareness
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has developed the following guide: "How to Prepare for a Winter Storm". The guide includes information on the following:
- Knowing your risk
- Frequency of events by county
- Protecting yourself before, during, and after a winter storm
- Weather terms
- Assembling emergency supplies
- Protecting your home
- Building an emergency supply kit for your car
- Travel advice
- Cold weather dangers