Deciphering the Winter Weather Forecast
Learn the difference between a winter weather advisory, watch and warning — and find out how to prepare for each.
Winter weather is in the forecast, but is it imminent? The specific issued alert can tell you. Learn what each one means to help keep your family safe this winter.
The National Weather Service issues an advisory when winter conditions are or may soon be present — not as serious as a warning.
- What to expect: one or more types of wintry precipitation, including snow, sleet, and freezing rain
- Occurring: within 12 to 36 hours
- What to do: ensure you have equipment to clear your sidewalks and driveways; when driving, leave plenty of space between you and other cars, as roads may be slick and visibility reduced
Severe winter weather has been predicted, but the exact location, timing, type, and amount of precipitation are uncertain.
- What to expect: snow, freezing rain, or sleet, in light, moderate, or heavy amounts
- Occurring: within the next 12 to 48 hours
- What to do: Make sure you have extra food and necessary medications; if you plan to travel, determine a safe low-speed and easily maneuvered route and consider delaying your departure
Dangerous winter weather is occurring or has a very high probability of occurring.
- What to expect: snow and/or ice in moderate to heavy accumulations
- Occurring: within 12 to 24 hours
- What to do: stay indoors until the storm has passed; postpone any nonessential travel; if you’re outside, head to the closest shelter to ride out the storm
How to React to Specific Winter Weather Conditions
Know what to do when the following conditions are in the forecast:
- Freezing rain or sleet: Slow down and use extreme caution when driving, especially when stopping and turning, as this form of precipitation can form a layer of ice on roads.
- Ice storm: Roads likely will be treacherous and perhaps impassable. Avoid nonemergency driving and walking on ice-covered surfaces, which could cause injury.
- Blizzard: Blowing, heavy snow can lead to whiteout conditions and make it nearly impossible to drive or even walk outdoors. If you must venture outside, make sure to keep an emergency kit in your car and know what to do if stranded.