Winter Weather Terms

Winter Storm Watches, Warnings, and Advisories

February 3, 2017

Know your winter weather terms. Sometimes meteorological terms can be hard to decipher, so find out what to expect from a winter storm warning or a windchill advisory with these weather condition terms.

Winter Storm Watch

If a Winter Storm Watch is issued, 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

A Winter Storm Outlook is issued prior to a Winter Storm Watch, usually 3 to 5 days in advance of a possible winter storm.

Winter Storm Warning

A Winter Storm Warning 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

A blizzard is a storm with large amounts of snow or blowing snow with sustained or gusty winds of 35 mpm or more, and falling or blowing snow creating visibilities at or less than ¼ mile for an extended period of time (at least 3 hours). When these conditions are expected, the National Weather Service will issue a “Blizzard Warning”. When these conditions are not expected to occur simultaneously, but one or two of these conditions are expected, a “Winter Storm Warning” may be issued (as above).


Windchill Warning

A Windchill Warning is issued when windchill temperatures are expected to be hazardous to life within several minutes of exposure.

Windchill Advisory

A Windchill Advisory is 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. Check our windchill chart for the U.S. and for Canada.

Winter Weather Advisories

Winter Weather Advisories are 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

A Dense Fog Advisory is issued when fog will reduce visibility to ¼ mile or less over a widespread area.

Snow Flurries

Snow flurries involve light snow falling for short durations. No accumulation or light dusting is all that is expected.

Snow Showers

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

Snow Squalls

Snow squalls are 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

Blowing snow is 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.

Definition of Sleet

Sleet is made of 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

Freezing rain is 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.

Check your weather forecast to see if any of these winter storms are headed your way! Plus, get the snow forecast in your area.


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administratino (NOAA)


Reader Comments

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NWS Terms

And keep in mind, the criteria for many of these NWS alerts is unique to the office that issues it and for the region they impact. For example, Winter Storm WARNING criteria for the lower Ohio Valley is 4" or more of snow...that would not warrant a WARNING for the New England states.

snow rollers

Can you explain the conditions that are required for snow rollers to develop, and how they develop?

Winter weather

What kind of winter weather will we have in Jenks, Oklahoma 74037, both coldness and the kind of wetness?

Winter Weather

The Editors's picture

Hi Carolyn, You can go to this page for an general U.S. forecast, and find the regional winter forecasts in the newly-published 2017 Almanac here.

Are we going to have a lot of

Are we going to have a lot of snow in the Joplin Missouri area this year