Watch vs. Warning: Know Your Weather Terms

The definitions of watches and warnings can easily get jumbled, so keep this guide handy when a storm approaches your neighborhood

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The last thing anyone wants to be is confused when severe weather strikes. The definitions of watches and warnings can easily get jumbled, so keep this guide handy when a storm approaches your neighborhood.

The National Weather Service uses these terms below to convey a weather threat to the public:

Watch:
A watch is generally issued in the 24 to 72 hour forecast time frame when the risk of a hazardous winter weather event has increased. It is intended to provide enough lead time so those who need to set their plans in motion can do so.

Warning: A warning is issued when a hazardous winter weather event is occurring, is imminent, or has a very high probability of occurrence. A warning is used for conditions posing a threat to life or property.

Advisory: An advisory is issued when a hazardous winter weather event is occurring, is imminent, or has a very high probability of occurrence. An advisory is for less serious conditions that cause significant inconvenience and, if caution is not exercised, could lead to situation that may threaten life and/or property.

Types of Watches, Warning & Advisories:

Winter Storm Watch: Indicates severe winter weather, such as heavy snow or ice, is possible within the next day or two. Prepare now.

Winter Storm Warning: Indicates heavy snow (greater than 6”), heavy sleet (1/2” +), or a combination of winter weather hazards are highly likely or occurring. Stay indoors and adjust travel plans.

Ice Storm Warning:
Heavy accumulations of ice will create extremely dangerous travel, damage tress and likely cause extended power outages.

Blizzard Watch: Conditions are favorable for a blizzard event in the next 24 to 72 hours. Sustained wind or frequent gusts greater than or equal to 35 mph will accompany falling and/or blowing snow to frequently reduce visibility to less than ¼ mile for three or more hours.

Blizzard Warning: Strong winds of 35 mph or greater will combine to produce blinding snow, near zero visibility, deep drifts, and life threatening conditions, especially for those attempting travel.

Lake Effect Snow Watch:
Conditions are favorable for a lake effect snow event to meet or exceed local lake effect snow warning criteria in the next 24 to 72 hours. Widespread or localized lake induced snow squalls or heavy snow showers which produce snowfall accumulation to seven or more inches in 12 hours or less.

Lake Effect Snow Warning: A lake effect snow event is expected to meet or exceed local lake effect snow warning criteria in the next 12 to 36 hours. Widespread or localized lake induced snow squalls or heavy snow showers which produce snowfall accumulation to seven or more inches in 12 hours or less.

Wind Chill Watch: Conditions are favorable for wind chill temperatures to meet or exceed local wind chill warning criteria in the next 24 to 72 hours. Wind chill temperatures may reach or exceed -25 degrees.

Wind Chill Warning: Life-threatening wind chills of 25 to 30 below zero or colder.

Wind Chill Advisory: Dangerous wind chills of 15 to 24 below zero.

Wind Advisory
Issued when sustained winds of 30 to 39 mph are expected for 1 hour or longer.

High Wind Warning
Issued when sustained winds of 40 mph or more are expected for 1 hour or longer, or for wind gusts of 58 mph or more with no time limit. A High Wind Watch is issued when these conditions may be met 12 to 48 hours in the future.

Winter Weather Advisory: Indicated snow accumulating 2 to 5 inches, or a combination of winter weather conditions will cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous, especially to motorists. Use caution if you venture out.

Frost/Freeze Warning: Below freezing temperatures are expected.

Freezing Rain Advisory: Light accumulations of ice will cause hazardous travel.

Winter Weather Definitions:

Freezing Rain: Precipitation that falls from the clouds as rain, but freezes into a glaze of ice on ground based objects (trees, power lines, roads, cars, etc.)

Sleet: Small pellets of ice, created by frozen raindrops. Sleet bounces when hitting a surface and does not stick to objects.

Wind Chill: A calculation of how cold it feels outside when the effects of temperature and wind speed are combined. Wind chill only applies to bare, human skin. The effects of wind chill are different for animals, and do not apply to all non-living objects.

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