frozen guy
Winter Weather Safety
NWS La Crosse

The next Winter Weather Awareness Week in Minnesota and Wisconsin is November 10-14, 2014.  In Iowa, the next Winter Weather Awareness Day will be Thursday, Nov.6, 2014.

In cooperation with state emergency management agencies, the National Weather Service (NWS) uses this week to remind people about the dangers of hazardous winter weather and extreme cold. The NWS urges people to prepare and be ready BEFORE a winter storm or cold wave hits.

A variety of topics are covered during the week, including:

Contact Todd Shea, Warning Coordination Meteorologist, for an interview or additional information.

What is it going to be like this winter? Click here to check out the latest Winter Outlook (2014-2015).

For Wisconsin statewide winter preparedness information, click here.

For Minnesota winter preparedness ideas from Minnesota's Homeland Security and Emergency Management, click here.


NWS La Crosse snow NWS Winter Weather Information / Terms

It is important that you learn and understand the definitions of different winter related headlines. Here are the main products used by the NWS to keep people informed.

Hazardous Weather Outlook (HWO)

    The Hazardous Weather Outlook includes any potential weather hazard out to seven (7) days. It is used for planning purposes and will include a short description of what the weather threat is, when it is expected, and how much it may impact the region. The HWO is issued daily around 5:00 AM, and updated during the day as needed. It is also broadcast on NOAA Weather Radio near the top and bottom of every hour.

Winter Storm Watch (WSW)

    A Winter Storm Watch is issued when there is a potential for a winter storm to affect the region during the next 1 to 3 days. It does not always mean the area will be hit by a winter storm, but there is still some uncertainity of the exact path or timing of the event. This is a planning stage. Use this time to ensure you have supplies at home, like some extra food, medications, baby items, etc.. If travel is planned, check ahead and see if a different route or delaying your departure may make your trip safer. Be alert for changing weather conditions.

Winter Weather Advisory (WSW)

    Advisories are issued for those winter weather events that are expected to be more of an inconvenience and should not become life-threatening if caution is exercised. These are often issued for 3 to 6 inches of snow, blowing and drifting snow, freezing drizzle, or a combination of these elements. It may be issued for less snow for early season events, when drivers may not be accustomed to slick roads.

Winter Storm Warning (WSW)

    Winter Storm Warnings are usually issued when dangerous winter weather is expected, occurring, or imminent. The weather can become life-threatening. Criteria includes snowfalls of 6 inches or more in 12 hours, 8 inches in 24 hours, or lower amounts if accompanied by strong winds or a combination of dangerous winter elements. Avoid unnecessary travel.

Blizzard Warnings (BZW)

    The most dangerous winter event is certainly the blizzard. Blizzard Warnings are issued when snow or blowing snow lowers visibilities to a 1/4 mile or less, wind gusts hit 35 mph or higher, and the storm lasts for 3 hours or more. Travel is dangerous and should be avoided if possible.

Ice Storm Warning (WSW)

    Ice storm Warnings are issued when freezing rain will cause widespread glazing. A coating of ice is expected to reach 1/4 inch thick or more on objects and make travel nearly impossible. For lesser amounts of ice, usually a winter weather advisory would be used, but even a thin glaze of ice can make travel difficult. Avoid travel.

Wind Chill Warning (NPW)

    Issued when wind chills of -35 F or lower are expected with wind speeds of 10 mph or more. A wind chill advisory is issued for values between -20 and -34 F. Dress warmly and cover as much exposed skin as possible.

ice on power lines Winter Storm Climatology

On average our area experiences 2 to 3 winter storms a season and 1 "true" blizzard every 3 years. Parts of southeast Minnesota and northeast Iowa experience more blizzards on average than areas along the Mississippi River and western Wisconsin because of the terrain. Be aware that conditions can change drastically across northern Iowa and southern Minnesota compared to areas east of there.

Click here for more information about Wisconsin hazardous winter weather.

Here is a table showing the number of winter related warnings the La Crosse NWS office has issued for the past several seasons:

Season

# of Warnings

1998-99

55

1999-00

61

2000-01

185

2001-02

69

2002-03

73

2003-04

90

2004-05

105

2005-06

92

2006-07

169

2007-08

210

2008-09

142

2009-10

91

2010-11

138

2011-12

6 (new record!)

2012-13

190

2013-14

143

What is the prediction for this winter?Click here to check out our 2014-2015 Winter Outlook page.


blowing snow Wind Chill Index

The "Wind Chill" Index is a calculation of how cold it feels outside when the effects of temperature and wind speed are combined. The La Crosse National Weather Service issues Wind Chill Advisories when they reach -20 F, and Wind Chill Warnings when they drop to -35 F or lower. Exposure to cold, biting air for long periods of time is dangerous.

Wind chill chart

For more information on the Wind Chill Index, click here.

In late 2001 the NWS started using a new wind chill index. This new index was designed to calculate a more accurate reading of how the cold air feels on human skin. This new index was based on wind speeds at human face level, an updated heat transfer theory which factors in heat loss from the body to its surroundings during cold windy days, and a consistent standard for skin tissue resistance. The main goal of the change was to use modern science in revising the index so that it more accurately represents the impact on humans.


bitter cold city Frostbite / Hypothermia

Watch for signs of frostbite or hypothermia when outdoors during extreme cold weather.

Frostbite is a severe reaction to cold exposure that can permanently damage its victims. A loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in fingers, toes, or nose and ear lobes are symptoms of frostbite. In fact, research (P.Tikuisis, 2004) has shown that uncovered fingers can freeze up to 8 times faster than a human cheek, and the nose can freeze 3 times faster. This illustrates the importance of keeping fingers and parts of your face (ear lobes, nose) well covered in extreme cold weather.

Hypothermia is a condition brought on when the body temperature drops to less than 95 deg F. Symptoms of hypothermia include uncontrollable shivering, slow speech, memory lapses, frequent stumbling, drowsiness, and exhaustion.

If frostbite or hypothermia is suspected, begin warming the person slowly and seek immediate medical assistance. Warm the person's trunk first. Use your own body heat to help. Arms and legs should be warmed last because stimulation of the limbs can drive cold blood toward the heart and lead to heart failure. Put the person in dry clothing and wrap their entire body in a blanket.

Never give a frostbite or hypothermia victim something with caffeine in it (like coffee or tea) or alcohol. Caffeine, a stimulant, can cause the heart to beat faster and hasten the effects the cold has on the body. Alcohol, a depressant, can slow the heart and also hasten the ill effects of cold body temperatures.


icicles Winter Weather Preparedness

Proper winter weather awareness includes preparation. Here are some things that can help you.

    When Outdoors:
    • Check temperatures and wind chill indicies first.
    • Dress warmly, with several layers. Dress for the worst just in case.
    • Use a warm coat, gloves or mittens, a hat, and water-resistant boots.
    • Cover exposed skin as much as possible.
    • Watch for frostbite on finger tips, ear lobes, the nose, or toes.
    • Avoid over-exertion. The cold already puts a strain on the body and heart.

    At Home or Work - make sure you have:

    • Extra flashlights and batteries
    • A battery-powered NOAA Weather Radio or AM/FM portable radio
    • Extra food and water (2-3 day supply)
    • Extra medicine and baby items
    • First Aid supplies
    • Emergency Heating source**
    • Carbon Monoxide Detector

    ** If you use an emergency heating source, be alert for deadly carbon monoxide gases and never place it near another object that may catch on fire. Many house fires during the winter are caused by incorrect use of a space heater. Keep the space heater at least 36 inches away from other objects and turn it off if you leave the room.

    Ice Storms can down power lines and create widespread power outages.  Click here for a preparedness page about power lines and outages.

    On the farm:

    • Move animals to a sheltered area.
    • Supply extra food for animals.
    • Have a fresh water supply (most animal deaths during the winter are from dehydration).

    At School:

    • Have an action plan.
    • Monitor weather conditions closely.
    • Use NOAA Weather Radio to get hourly wind chill values.
    • School days may need to be delayed, cancelled, or shortened.

    When Traveling:

    • Winterize your vehicle. Check the battery.
    • Check the forecast and road conditions ahead of time.
    • Consider adjusting your route to avoid poor driving conditions.
    • Carry a cellular phone for use during emergencies.
    • Keep the gas tank near full.
    • Coordinate with others your destination and times of travel.
    • Yield to snowplows. The snow cloud they produce can lower visibilities to near zero. Stay back - Stay Alive!
    • Have a survival kit in your car:
      • Extra blankets or sleeping bag
      • Flashlight with extra batteriestraffic stuck in snow
      • First Aid kit with pocket knife
      • Booster cables
      • A rope
      • A small shovel
      • A bag of sand or cat litter for traction
      • Plastic bags (for sanitation)
      • Extra gloves, hat, and socks
      • Non-perishable food items and bottled water
      • Road maps (for alternative routes)
    • If you do get stuck:
      • Stay with your car. Do not try to walk to safety.
      • Start the car for about 10 minutes every hour for heat.
      • Keep the exhaust pipe clear of snow.
      • Tie a bright colored (red or orange) cloth to the antenna.
      • Turn the dome light when running the engine.
      • If you must venture away from the car, use a life-line or rope.
    • Be careful of Dense Fog. Delay your travel if needed.fog crash aftermath
      • Do not drive into a dense fog bank. Others may be stopped.
      • In October 2002, a pile-up on Interstate 43 in eastern Wisconsin killed 10 people (see image) during dense fog.
      • In January 2008, another series of accidents in southern Wisconsin led to some fatalities due to dense fog.

NOAA Weather Radio logo NOAA Weather Radio

Staying informed of hazardous winter weather is a good way to prepare or avoid dangerous situations, especially if you have travel plans. NOAA Weather Radio is an excellent source of weather information directly from the National Weather Service.

Every school should have and monitor a NOAA Weather Radio!

NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts 24 hours a day - 7 days a week. At the touch of a button you can hear the:

  • Regional weather summary
  • Current weather conditions, including hourly wind chill values
  • The 7-day forecast
  • Radar summaries and short term forecasts
  • Any watches, warnings, or advisories in effect
  • Hazardous Weather Outlooks (top and bottom of the hour)
  • Other pertinent weather information as needed

To visit our main NOAA Weather Radio page, click here.

The National Weather Service in La Crosse currently operates 10 transmitters.

Current transmitters:
City ID Frequency
Rochester, MN WXK41 162.475 MHz
La Crosse, WI
Winona, MN
WXJ86
KGG95
162.550 MHz
162.425 MHz
Black River Falls, WI WNG564 162.500 MHz
Prairie du Chien, WI
Richland Center, WI
WWG86
WWG89
162.500 MHz
162.450 MHz
St.Ansgar, IA
Decorah, IA
KXI68
KXI60
162.450 MHz
162.525 MHz
Withee, WI KZZ77 162.425 MHz
Ridgeville/Tomah, WI KE2XKP 162.525 MHz

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