An Explanation of Winter Weather Advisories, Winter Storm Watches, and Winter Storm Warnings

By Erik Pindrock
12/27/2012 2:13:58 PM

The National Weather Service (NWS) is responsible for issuing a slew of weather related products "for the protection of life and property". One of the many groups of products issued by the NWS is related to dealing with winter storms. Winter Weather Advisories, Winter Storm Watches, and Winter Storm Warnings are just three of the approximately twenty or so winter weather related products that can be issued by the NWS across the United States. Only the National Weather Service can issue an advisory, watch, or warning when an impending winter storm threatens a particular area. The criteria for the aforementioned products vary depending on region; however, all imply the potential for some type of disruption to day to day activities due to wintry precipitation.

A Winter Weather Advisory is issued when a combination of wintry precipitation such as snow, sleet, or freezing rain is less than 24 hours from occurring and has the potential to create a hazard. A light glaze of ice or a few inches of snow are some examples which can prompt a winter weather advisory to be issued.

A Winter Storm Watch is issued approximately 24-36 hours before a more significant winter storm is expected. Heavy snow and significant ice accumulations are possible within a Watch area which can adversely affect travel.

Finally, a Winter Storm Warning is issued when a significant winter storm containing heavy snow and/or significant ice is imminent or already occurring. Traveling is highly discouraged due to poor road conditions.

As alluded to in the beginning of the story, there are various other winter weather related products that the NWS will issue for such as Ice Storm Warnings, Freezing Fog Advisories, and Wind Chill Warnings. Knowing what the different advisories, watches, and warnings mean will lead to more informed decision making when a winter storm threatens a particular area.