What Do Winter Weather Watches & Warnings Mean?

What Do Winter Weather Watches & Warnings Mean?

Do you know the difference between a storm watch, warning, or advisory? It can mean all the difference in the time you have to prepare for the storm with at least three days of food, water and emergency supplies to stay at home and keep off the roads. 

The National Weather Service (NWS) issues watches, warnings and advisories for all winter weather hazards. Here’s what they mean and what to do. Use the information below to make an informed decision on your risk and what actions to take. 

Winter Storm Watch: Be Prepared. A watch means that severe winter conditions, such as heavy snow or sleet or an ice storm, may affect your area, but where, when and how much is still uncertain. NWS issues a watch to provide 12 to 36 hours notice of possible severe winter weather. A watch is intended to provide enough lead time for you to prepare. 

Winter Storm Warning: Take Action! NWS issues a warning when its scientists forecast 4 or more inches of snow or sleet in the next 12 hours, 6 or more inches in 24 hours, or 1/4 inch or more of ice accumulation. Travel will become difficult or impossible in some situations. Delay your travel plans until conditions improve. 

Winter Weather Advisory: Be Aware.  An advisory informs you that winter weather conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences that may be hazardous. If you exercise caution, advisory situations shouldn’t become life-threatening. 

Blizzard Warning lets you know that snow and strong winds will combine to produce a blinding snow (near zero visibility), deep drifts, and life-threatening wind chill. 

Remember to listen to your local officials’ recommendations and to a NOAA Weather Radio, which broadcasts alerts and warnings directly from the National Weather Service. Learn more by visiting the NWS Winter Storm Safety page.


Give the Gift of Emergency Preparedness

If you still need some last minute gift ideas, consider giving the gift of preparedness.

Help your friends and family members prepare for emergencies this holiday season with an item for their emergency kit. 

Pick an emergency item from the lists below or find more ideas at Ready.gov.

  • NOAA Weather Radio.
  • Hand-Crank Flashlight/Radio/Cell Phone Charger.
  • Cellphone Charger or External Battery Pack.
  • First-Aid Kit.
  • Manual Can Opener.
  • Smoke or Carbon Monoxide Alarm.
  • Fire Extinguisher.
  • Enrollment in a CPR or First-Aid Class.
  • Blanket.
  • Rain/Wet Weather Gear.
  • You might consider items for a roadside emergency, such as:
  • Jumper Cables.
  • Tools – tire pressure gauge, screwdrivers, wrenches, pliers, shovel, ice scraper, etc.
  • Emergency Flares.

For those with pets, supplies for a pet emergency kit:

  • Pet First-Aid Kit.
  • Pet Carrier.
  • An extra leash or harness.

For information on how to give a fully stocked emergency preparedness kit, visit the Ready.gov Build A Kit page.


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