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Deciphering the Winter Forecast
 

Remember the cliché about Eskimos and their multitude of words for snow? Some linguists argue the cliché is more myth than reality, but there's no denying that weather professionals, at least, have more than a few ways to describe winter storms.

If you live in snow country, it pays to be familiar with the National Weather Service's terminology. Here’s what the four primary winter weather alerts mean and what you may be able to expect when one is issued for your area:

  1. Winter Storm Outlook
    The storm isn’t here yet, but it may arrive in about three to five days. So, check on your emergency supplies (at home, in your car, at work, etc.) and evaluate your emergency plan – both for your family and for those for whom you provide care. Also check for regular weather updates so you can continue to prepare accordingly.
     
  2. Winter Storm Watch
    The possibility for heavy snow, freezing rain and other hazardous conditions is more immediate, possibly arriving within the next 12 to 48 hours. Start making plans to accommodate for school and road closings, as needed, plus fill up your car’s gas tank and stock up on food. A winter storm watch could quickly escalate to a winter storm warning, so keep an eye on the forecast.
     
  3. Winter Storm Warning
    Hazardous or even life-threatening winter weather is occurring or has a high probability of occurring within the next 12 to 24 hours. Stay indoors and off the roads as much as possible. Charge your mobile phone so you can receive any Wireless Emergency Alerts for your area, and bring your animals indoors.
     
  4. Winter Storm Advisory
    Less severe winter weather is occurring or is highly probable to occur in the imminent future. This is no time to let down your guard, however. Accumulations of snow and ice will cause travel delays and other dangerous conditions, so exercise extreme caution. If you haven’t already, stock up on food and gas, if it’s safe to do so. Also keep your mobile phone charged and check often on outdoor animals.

Watches, warnings and advisories may also occur for:

  • Blizzards (watch or warning): Sustained or gusty winds of 35 mph or more, and falling or blowing snow, will reduce visibility to a quarter mile or less.
     
  • Ice Storms (warning): Significant accumulation of ice will make traveling extremely hazardous. Watch for falling tree limbs and power lines due to the weight of the ice.
     
  • Wind Chill (watch, warning or advisory): Temperatures reaching or dipping below -20 degrees Fahrenheit will make being outside extremely dangerous.

Keep in mind that your local weather service or media outlet may have more exact definitions of what these winter weather alerts signify in your area. Also keep in mind that, while these alerts are helpful, weather can change unexpectedly – for the better or the worse. Being extra cautious and preparing in advance is always a smart move when your safety and the safety of the ones you love is at stake.

 

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