Know the Winter Weather Terms

Posted at 1:12 p.m.

Granted it’s warm outside today, but this week (Dec. 2-8) is Winter Preparedness Week in Virginia — a good time to take steps to be ready for inclement winter weather while the weather is nice.

The National Weather Service (NWS) uses specific winter weather terms to ensure that we know what to expect during a winter storm. Here’s what NWS means when you hear the terms winter storm watch or winter storm warning.

Winter Storms - The Deceptive Killers

Get the publication, “Winter Storms: The Deceptive Killers” (PDF). Click the image above.

A Winter Storm Watch means that severe winter conditions, such as heavy snow and/or ice, may affect your area, but its occurrence, location and timing are still uncertain. A winter storm watch is issued to provide 12 to 36 hours notice of the possibility of severe winter weather. A winter storm watch is intended to provide enough lead time so those who need to set plans in motion can do so.

A watch is upgraded to a Winter Storm Warning when 4 or more inches of snow or sleet is expected in the next 12 hours, or 6 or more inches in 24 hours, or 1/4 inch or more of ice accretion is expected.

There are also several other winter terms you may hear:

  • Winter Weather Advisories inform you that winter weather conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences that may be hazardous. If caution is exercised, advisory situations should not become life-threatening.
  • A Blizzard Warning means that snow and strong winds will combine to produce a blinding snow (near zero visibility), deep drifts and life-threatening wind chill. Be sure to listen carefully to the radio, television and NOAA Weather Radio for the latest winter storm watches, warnings and advisories.
  • 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.
  • Frost/Freeze Warning — Below freezing temperatures are expected.
  • Wind Chill — One of the gravest dangers of winter weather is wind chill. The wind chill is based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin by combined effects of wind and cold. As the wind increases, heat is carried away from the body at an accelerated rate, driving down the body temperature. Animals are also effected by wind chill. Check out the wind chill chart at

For additional information, visit the National Weather Service Winter Weather Awareness Web page or the winter storms Web page.

For the latest NWS weather forecast, bookmark this page. And if you don’t already receive emergency weather alerts from CEAN, the county’s Community Emergency Alert Network, sign up today.

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