Understand Winter Weather Alerts
Winter weather related Warnings, Watches and Advisories are issued by your local National Weather Service office. Each office knows the local area and will issue Warnings, Watches or Advisories based on local criteria. For example, the amount of snow that triggers a “Winter Storm Warning” in the Northern Plains is typically much higher than the amount needed to trigger a “Winter Storm Warning” in the Southeast.
Warnings: Take Action!
- Blizzard Warnings are issued for frequent gusts greater than or equal to 35 mph accompanied by falling and/or blowing snow, frequently reducing visibility to less than 1/4 mile for three hours or more. A Blizzard Warning means severe winter weather conditions are expected or occurring. Falling and blowing snow with strong winds and poor visibilities are likely, leading to whiteout conditions making travel extremely difficult. Do not travel. If you must travel, have a winter survival kit with you. If you get stranded, stay with your vehicle and wait for help to arrive.
- Winter Storm Warnings are issued for a significant winter weather event including snow, ice, sleet or blowing snow or a combination of these hazards. Travel will become difficult or impossible in some situations. Delay your travel plans until conditions improve.
- Ice Storm Warnings are usually issued for ice accumulation of around 1/4 inch or more. This amount of ice accumulation will make travel dangerous or impossible and likely lead to snapped power lines and falling tree branches. Travel is strongly discouraged.
- Windchill Warning are issued for a combination of very cold air and strong winds that will create dangerously low windchill values. This level of windchill will result in frostbite and lead to hypothermia if precautions are not taken. Avoid going outdoors and wear warm protective clothing if you must venture outside. See the NWS Windchill Chart.
- Lake Effect Snow Warnings are issued when widespread or localized lake induced snow squalls or heavy showers are expected to produce significant snowfall accumulation. Lake effect snow usually develops in narrow bands and impacts a limited area. These bands can produce very heavy snow with sudden restrictions in visibility. Driving conditions may become hazardous at times.
Watches: Be Prepared
- Blizzard Watches are issued when there is a potential for falling and/or blowing snow with strong winds and extremely poor visibilities. This can lead to whiteout conditions and make travel very dangerous.
- Winter Storm Watches are issued when conditions are favorable for a significant winter storm event (heavy sleet, heavy snow, ice storm, heavy snow and blowing snow or a combination of events.)
- Windchill Watches are issued when there is the potential for a combination of extremely cold air and strong winds to create dangerously low windchill values. See the NWS Windchill Chart.
- Lake Effect Snow Watches are issued when conditions are favorable for a lake effect snow event. A potential exists for heavy accumulation of lake effect snow. Travel and commerce may be significantly affected.
Advisories: Be Aware
- Winter Weather Advisories are issued when snow, blowing snow, ice, sleet, or a combination of these wintry elements is expected but conditions should not be hazardous enough to meet warning criteria. Be prepared for winter driving conditions and possible travel difficulties. Use caution when driving.
- Freezing Rain Advisories are issued when light ice accumulation (freezing rain and/or freezing drizzle) is expected but will not reach warning criteria. Expect a glaze on roads resulting in hazardous travel. Slow down and use caution while driving because even trace amounts of ice on roads can be dangerous.
- Windchill Advisories are issued when low windchill temperatures are expected but will not reach local warning criteria. Extremely cold air and strong winds will combine to generate low windchill readings. If you must venture outdoors, take precautions against frostbite and hypothermia. See the NWS Windchill Chart.
- Lake Effect Snow Advisory are issued for widespread or localized lake effect snowfall accumulation (and blowing snow) remaining below warning criteria. Expects lake effect snow showers and assume travel will be difficult in some areas. Some localized snow bands will be intense enough to produce several inches in a few areas with sudden restrictions in visibility.
Winter Storm Hazards Across the United States
Every state in the nation experiences potentially dangerous winter weather, even Hawaii.
Go to weather.gov for the latest alerts.
- Alaska: Heavy snow, strong winds/blizzards, coastal flooding, extreme cold, avalanches, ice jams, ice fog
- West Coast: Heavy precipitation,
- The Rockies: Heavy snow, mountain-effect snow, strong winds, avalanches, extreme cold, blizzards
- Midwest and Plains: Heavy snow,
strong winds/blizzards, extreme windchill, lake-effect snow, ice storms
to New England: Heavy snow, ice storms, strong winds, coastal flooding,
beach erosion, extreme cold
- Southeast and
Ice storms, crop-killing freezes, occasional snow
- Hawaii: Snow on the Big Island of Hawaii
Here are some more key terms to understand:
- Freezing Rain: Rain that freezes when it hits the ground; creating a coating of ice on roads, walkways, trees and power lines.
- Sleet: Rain that turns to ice pellets before reaching the ground. Sleet also causes moisture on roads to freeze and become slippery.
- Windchill: A measure of how cold people feel due to the combined effect of wind and cold temperatures; the Windchill Index is based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin. Both cold temperatures and wind remove heat from the body; as the wind speed increases during cold conditions, a body loses heat more quickly. Eventually, the internal body temperature also falls and hypothermia can develop. Animals also feel the effects of windchill; but inanimate objects, such as vehicles and buildings, do not. They will only cool to the actual air temperature, although much faster during windy conditions. Read how the Windchill Index was developed.
Find out about all the winter alerts NWS issues at our Products link. Find the current forecast at