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Winter Weather Terms

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Know your winter weather terms. Whether there is a winter storm or blizzard in the forecast, these terms will help you know what to expect.

Winter Storm Watch

Hazardous winter weather is expected in the form of heavy snow, heavy freezing rain, or heavy sleet. Issued 12 to 24 hours before the event is expected to begin.

Winter Storm Outlook

Issued prior to a Winter Storm Watch, usually 3 to 5 days in advance of a possible winter storm.

Winter Storm Warning

This is issued when a dangerous combination of heavy snow, with sleet and/or freezing rain, will occur or has a high probability of occurring within the next 12 hours.

Blizzard Warning

Issued for sustained or gusty winds of 35 mph or more, and falling or blowing snow creating visibilities at or below 1/4 mile; these conditions should persist at least 3 hours.

Windchill Warning

Issued when windchill temperatures are expected to be hazardous to life within several minutes of exposure.

Windchill Advisory

Issued when windchill temperatures are expected to be a significant inconvenience to life with prolonged exposure, and, if caution is not exercised, could lead to hazardous exposure.

Winter Weather Advisories

Issued for accumulations of snow, freezing rain, freezing drizzle, and sleet which will cause significant inconveniences and, if caution is not exercised, could lead to life-threatening situations.

Dense Fog Advisory

Issued when fog will reduce visibility to 1/4 mile or less over a widespread area.

Snow Flurries

Light snow falling for short durations. No accumulation or light dusting is all that is expected.

Snow Showers

Snow falling at varying intensities for brief periods of time. Some accumulation is possible.

Snow Squalls

Brief, intense snow showers accompanied by strong, gusty winds. Accumulation may be significant. Snow squalls are best known in the Great Lakes region.

Blowing Snow

Wind-driven snow that reduces visibility and causes significant drifting. Blowing snow may be snow that is falling and/or loose snow on the ground picked up by the wind.


Rain drops that freeze into ice pellets before reaching the ground. Sleet usually bounces when hitting a surface and does not stick to objects. However, it can accumulate like snow and cause a hazard to motorists.

Freezing Rain

Rain that falls onto a surface with a temperature below freezing. This causes it to freeze to surfaces, such as trees, cars, and roads, forming a coating or glaze of ice. Even small accumulations of ice can cause a significant hazard.

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