Winter Weather Terminology and Dangers

[See Safety]

What is the difference?


OUTLOOK—Hazardous Weather Outlooks are issued everyday, and serve as a “heads-up” that a significant weather event may be possible in the next 2 to 7 days.

ADVISORY—An advisory is issued when winter weather events could cause a significant inconvenience, but could also lead to life threatening conditions if not cautious.

WATCH—A watch is issued when winter weather events have the potential to threaten life and property, but the exact timing and location of the storm is uncertain.  Watches are normally issued between 12 to 48 hours in advance.

WARNING—A warning is issued when winter weather events are occurring or are imminent and pose a threat to life and property.  Warnings are normally issued between 2 and 24 hours in advance.

Winter Weather Product Criteria

Advisory Products

Freezing Rain—Small accumulation of ice, generally less than 1/4 of an inch.

Sleet—Accumulation of ice pellets less than 1/2 of an inch.

Snow—Snow accumulation of 3 to 5 inches in 12 hours.   

Snow & Blowing Snow—Snowfall with wind speeds of 25 to 34 miles per hour and visibilities less than 1/4 of a mile for at least 3 hours.

Wind Chill—Wind Chill values of –20°F to –29°F with wind speeds of at least 10 miles per hour.

Winter Weather—A combination of 2 or more of the following:

  • Snow accumulations of 3 to 5 inches in 12 hours
  • Visibilities of 1/4 of a mile or less with snow and blowing snow
  • Light freezing rain with ice accumulation of less than 1/4 of an inch
  • Sleet accumulation of less than 1/2 of an inch
  • Wind speeds between 25 and 34 miles per hour

Watch and Warning Products


Blizzard—Snow and blowing snow with wind speeds of 35 miles per hour and greater and visibilities less than 1/4 of a mile for at least 3 hours.

Heavy Snow—Snow accumulation of 6 inches or more in 12 hours or 8 inches or more in 24 hours.

Ice Storm—Widespread ice accumulation of 1/4 of an inch or more.

Sleet—Accumulation of ice pellets 1/2 of an inch and greater.

Winter Storm—A combination of two or more of the following:

  • Snow accumulations of 6 inches or more in 12 hours or 8 inches or more in 24 hours
  • Visibilities of 1/4 of a mile or less with snow and blowing snow
  • Freezing rain with ice accumulation of 1/4 of an inch or more
  • Sleet accumulation of 1/2 of an inch or more
  • Wind speeds between 25 and 34 miles per hour

 

Why Talk About Winter Weather?


Every year there are people who die due to exposure to the cold.  When you add in the number of automobile accidents and deaths, accidental fires due to dangerous use of heaters, and other winter weather related fatalities, one can see the threat winter weather can pose if not cautious.  Very young people and the elderly are the most vulnerable to exposure to the cold and its dangers.  Recognizing the threats and knowing what to do when they occur could prevent the loss of extremities or save a life.

Avoid Overexertion

Avoid activities such as shoveling heavy snow, pushing a car, or walking in deep snow.  The strain from the cold and the hard labor could cause a heart attack, and sweating could lead to a chill and hypothermia.

Dress for the season
  • Try to stay dry.
  • Wear loose-fitting, light-weight, warm clothing in several layers.  Trapped air between these layers can insulate.  Layers can be removed to avoid perspiration and subsequent chills. 
  • Outer garments should be tightly woven, water repellent, and hooded.
  • Be sure to always wear a hat, as half of your body heat can be lost from the head.
  • Mittens, snug at the wrist, are better than gloves.
Hypothermia
  • A condition brought on when the body temperature drops below 95°F, it can kill if not treated.  Those who do survive could have lasting kidney, liver, and pancreas problems. 
  • Symptoms include:  uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness, and exhaustion.
  • Take the person’s temperature, if is below 95°F, seek medical attention immediately!
  • If medical care is not available…
  • Begin warming the person SLOWLY!
  • Warm the body core first!  Warming extremities first can drive cold blood to the heart, which can cause heart failure.
  • Get the person into dry clothing, and do NOT give them alcohol, drugs, or any HOT beverage or food.  Warm broth is the best to offer.
Frostbite
  • Causes damage to body tissue by exposure to extreme cold.
  • Symptoms include:  loss of feeling, and a white or pale appearance in the extremities.
  • Seek medical attention immediately!  If not available, slowly rewarm the affected areas.  HOWEVER, if the person is also showing signs of hypothermia, warm the BODY CORE first, not the extremities!
Wind chill


Based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin caused by combined effects of wind and cold.

The higher the wind, the greater the rate at which heat is carried away, driving down body temperature.

Animals are also affected by wind chill, but cars, plants, and other objects are not.

National Weather Service Wind Chill Chart

 


USA.gov is the U.S. government's official web portal to all federal, state and local government web resources and services.