Winter Weather Awareness Week: The meaning behind advisories, watches, and warnings


(WFRV) – The first winter weather advisories of the fall were issued last weekend Green Bay southward in advance of our first snowfall of the year in Northeast Wisconsin. 

The National Weather Service uses winter headlines to keep the public safe and informed. A hazardous weather outlook can typically be issued 4 to 7 days out. Moving to 1 to 3 days out, a winter storm watch can be issued when there is the potential for a winter storm.  

Within 24 hours the National Weather Service can issue, a winter storm warning, winter weather advisory, or blizzard, ice storm, and wind chill warnings. 

A winter storm warning will be issued if 6 inches of snow is possible within 12 hours, 8 inches of snow is possible in 24 hours, or lower amounts could have higher impacts with other winter conditions. 

Winter Weather Advisories are most often issued when 3 to 5 inches of snow is possible. 

And treat winter storm watches as a preparation period. 

Kurt Kotenberg, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Green Bay, gave some good advice on how to treat winter storm watches: “Winter storm watch, just think WATCH the weather carefully. Especially if you are going to be outside or traveling. Basically, what we are seeing when we issue a watch are indications that there could be some sort of winter storm or ice storm…or something like that that could impact travel or just the public in general.”

Other winter warnings that may be issued within a 24-hour period are Wind Chill, Blizzard, and Ice Storm Warnings. Ice Storms warnings target spots that could see over quarter inch of ice accumulation. 

Wind Chill warnings can be issued when wind chills will be -35 degrees or lower. Blizzard warnings can happen with winds over 35 mph that accompany snow with visibility under a quarter mile for 3 hours.

How common are blizzard and winter storm warnings?

Kotenberg said, “Usually, our winter storm warnings we issue 5 per year here in Wisconsin. We issue a blizzard warning about once every 5 years. And winter weather advisories we issue around at least 10 or so per year so they are decently common.”

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