A way with words: Winter weather terminology - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

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A way with words: Winter weather terminology

(Source: RNN) (Source: RNN)
(WAFF) -

The vocabulary of watches, warnings and advisories can be confusing for some.

In an earlier Be Prepared segment, we went over the differences between watches and warnings for tornadoes and thunderstorms.

Now, let's review what the different kinds of advisories mean during the colder months.


Winter Weather Advisory

This is issued for a winter weather situation that causes significant inconveniences, but does not meet warning criteria.  The winter weather can still be life threatening if caution is not exercised, and frequently a winter weather advisory will be issued if travel impacts can be expected.  

A Winter Weather Advisory is issued if more than one type of hazardous winter weather is expected, is occurring, or is imminent:

  • Sleet and/or snowfall of 1-2 inches in 12 hours
  • Accumulation of freezing rain (ice) up to 0.25" (1/4 inch) 

Winter Storm Warning

This is issued when a combination of hazardous winter weather is occurring, is imminent, or is expected.  Winter Storm Warnings are issued when one or more of the following is expected:

  • Sleet and/or snowfall of 2+ inches in 12 hours, or 4+ inches in 24 hours
  • Accumulation of freezing rain (ice) of 0.25" (1/4 inch) or greater 

Blizzard Warning

This is issued when winds of 35 mph (sustained or frequent gusts) or stronger combine with considerable falling, blowing, and/or drifting snow, for 3 hours or more with visibilities of 1/4 mile or less. This is very infrequent in the Tennessee Valley.

Ice Storm Warning

This is issued when greater than 0.25" (1/4 inch) of ice is expected to accumulate during freezing rain situations. Heavy accumulations of ice can produce extremely dangerous and damaging situations, primarily by pulling down trees and utility lines.

Freezing Rain Advisory

This is issued when rain or drizzle freezes (air temperature at or below 32 degrees), or is expected to freeze, on surfaces and objects, making walking and travel dangerous. Ice accumulations are expected to be less than 0.25" (1/4 inch).  

Winter Storm Watch

This is issued when conditions are favorable for hazardous winter weather conditions to develop. Generally, this type of watch is issued for weather conditions that could occur 24 to 48 hours in the future.

NWS Huntsville issues a Winter Storm Watch when one or more of the following is possible during the next 12 to 36 hours:

  • Sleet and/or snowfall of 2+ inches in 12 hours, or 4+ inches in 24 hours
  • Accumulation of freezing rain (ice) of 0.25" (1/4 inch) or greater

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