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Jan 04

Washington Emergency Management Division

What do winter weather watches & warnings mean?

Posted by Washington Emergency Management Division

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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. The National Weather Service issues a watch to provide 12- to 36-hour notice of possible severe winter weather. A watch is intended to provide enough lead time for you to prepare.
  • Winter Storm Warning: Take Action! The National Weather Service issues a warning when its scientists forecast 4 or more inches of snow or sleet in the next 12 hours, six or more inches in 24 hours, or quarter of an 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.

Also be sure to sign up to get real-time weather alerts. More preparedness information, including our new 2 Weeks Ready brochure can be found on our website at mil.wa.gov/preparedness