Winter Weather Awareness

Winter Weather FAQ

1.What is the difference between freezing rain, snow, sleet, and rain?
2. What is the difference between a blizzard, snow flurries, snow showers, blowing snow, and a snow squall?
3. What is lake effect snow?
4. What is thundersnow?
5. What is wind chill and how dangerous is it?



1. The difference is where the precipitation freezes as it falls to the ground. If the temperature if above freezing (32 degrees Farenheit) all the way to the ground, it will rain. On the contrary, if the temperature is freezing all the way to the ground, it will snow. For sleet, the temperature in the cloud is above freezing but below freezing from the cloud to the ground, so ice pellets fall. Freezing rain also has above freezing cloud temperature, but this relatively warm layer extends almost to the ground, where the temperature switches to subfreezing, causing the rain to freeze after hitting the ground.

For more information: Winter Precipitation types


2. Flurries: Light snow for brief period of time, little to no accumulation.
Showers: Similar to rain showers, varying snowfall rates over short periods of time, accumulation possible.
Blizzard: Winds 35mph or greater, while snowing, blowing snow, making visibility near zero.
Blowing Snow: Snow that is blown by the wind, resulting in small to large drifts and near-zero visibility
Snow Squall: Brief, intesne snowfall with strong wind gusts and possibly high accumulation. Occur mainly in Great Lakes region.


3. Lake-effect snow is localized, convective, potentially heavy, snow bands that occur on the downwind (lee side) of a lake when a colder air mass flows over the relatively warmer lake water. There are different types of lake-effect snow depending on the conditions and the set up of the band. These types are classified based off the radar signature. Lake-enhanced snow is different from lake-effect as it is part of an already present system, but the proximity of the lake augments any snowfall. Both occur most notabley over the Great Lakes on their southern and eastern shores.


4. Thundersnow is a snowstorm that has lightning and thunder associated with it, much like a thunderstorm. Thundersnow is a rare phenomenon because the same mechanisms that cause lightning in summertime thunderstorms are not as present in the winter. The winter-time atmosphere is generally stable, which does not allow for the charge seperation needed for lightning to occur. Thundersnow is most common with lake-effect snow due to it being convective in nature, but can occur with strong systems as well.


5. Wind chill is the apparent temperature that is felt when the wind speed is added into the temperature. The faster the wind, the quicker heat is transported away from your body. The faster the wind speed and lower the temperature, the greater the wind chill is. The danger from wind chill is presented mainly on bare skin as the colder the wind chill, the quicker frostbite can occur. When going outside during a wind chill warning, take care to cover as much exposed skin as possible to prevent frostbite.

For more information, please visit: NOAA Wind Chill Information, NWS Wind Chill Chart, NOAA Wind Chill Brochure (pdf)




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