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Nov. 18, 2005

Safety Tips from the Local Emergency Planning Committee--
Winter Brings Its Own Official Weather Phrases

There's a myth that the Eskimo language contains hundreds of words for "snow."

While that may be an exaggeration, it is true that the National Weather Service uses a variety of terms to describe the winter weather conditions that affect our area. Being prepared for bad weather will mean a safer winter season for you and your family.

Here's the list of the "expanded winter weather terminology" that the National Weather Service uses in its forecasts, and an explanation of their significance.

  • Winter Storm Watch: Issued for the possibility of severe, life-threatening winter weather conditions, including heavy snow, heavy ice, and/or near blizzard conditions. Forecasters are typically 50 percent confident that severe winter weather will materialize when a watch is issued.
  • Blizzard Watch: Issued for the possibility of blizzard conditions. Forecasters are typically 50 percent confident that blizzard conditions will materialize when a blizzard watch is issued.
  • Lake Effect Snow Watch: Issued for the potential for heavy lake effect snow.
  • Wind Chill Watch: Issued for the potential of wind chills of -25 degrees F or less, which can cause rapid frostbite and increase the risk of hypothermia.
  • Winter Storm Warning: Issued for a combination of heavy snow and/or ice, of which at least one exceeds or meets warning criteria. Winter weather is expected to cause life-threatening public impact for a combination of winter hazards including heavy snow, ice, near blizzard conditions, blowing and drifting snow, and/or dangerous wind chills.
  • Heavy Snow Warning: Issued when 7 inches or more of snow is expected in 12 hours or less, or 9 inches or more is expected in 24 hours or less. Heavy snow warnings are issued when there is a high degree of confidence that the entire event will be snow.
  • Ice Storm Warning: Issued for -inch or more of ice accumulation which causes damage to power lines and trees. Ice Storm Warnings are issued when there is a high degree of confidence that the entire event is expected to be ice.
  • Blizzard Warning: Issued when blizzard conditions are imminent or expected in the next 12 to 24 hours. Blizzard conditions include sustained or frequent gusts equal to or more than 35 miles per hour, and considerable falling, blowing and drifting of snow, frequently reducing visibilities to less than -mile.
  • Lake Effect Snow Warning: Issued for 7 inches or more of lake effect snow.
  • Wind Chill Warning: Issued when the wind chill is expected to be minus 25 degrees F or less. Frostbite can occur in less than 10 minutes.
  • Winter Weather Advisory: Issued for a hazardous combination of snow, and ice, of which neither meets or exceeds warning criteria. Issued for winter weather that will cause significant inconveniences or could be life-threatening if the proper precautions are not taken.
  • Snow Advisory: Issued when an average of 4 to 6 inches of snow is expected in 12 hours or less. Snow advisories are issued when there is a high degree of confidence that the entire event will be snow.
  • Freezing Rain Advisory: Any accumulation of freezing rain that can make roads slippery. Freezing rain advisories will only be issued when there is a high degree of confidence that the entire event will be freezing rain only.
  • Snow and Blowing Snow Advisory: Sustained wind or frequent gusts of 25- to 34-miles per hour accompanied by falling or blowing snow, occasionally reducing visibility to -mile or less for three hours or more.
  • Blowing Snow Advisory: Widespread or localized blowing snow, reducing visibilities to -mile or less, with winds less than 35 miles per hour.
  • Lake Effect Snow Advisory: Issued for an average of 4 to 6 inches of lake effect snow.

For more information on winter weather safety, visit: www.nws.noaa.gov/om/winter/index.shtml

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