Winter Weather Awareness Week: Watches, Warnings and Advisories

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(WVNS) — Winter Weather Awareness Week 2021 runs from Nov. 15-19 in West Virginia as declared by Gov. Jim Justice. Throughout the week, your local StormTracker 59 team, alongside our partners at the National Weather Service and the West Virginia Emergency Management Division, will be providing important information on how to prepare for winter and its impacts on the Mountain State.

Watches, Warnings and Advisories

As with any time of year when hazardous weather is in the forecast, the NWS offices in Charleston and Blacksburg that cover the StormTracker 59 forecast area will issue different types of alerts. Each alert corresponds to a different level of seriousness, but they follow the same pattern as the ones used during severe weather season.

Winter Storm Watches

When a watch is issued, it means hazardous winter weather is expected to begin within 72 hours or less. The specific criteria laid out by the National Weather Service for a “Winter Storm Watch” is as follows:

“Conditions are favorable for a winter weather event having one or more hazards (i.e., snow, snow and blowing snow, snow and ice, snow and sleet, snow, ice and sleet, freezing rain, or lake effect snow) to meet or exceed local Winter Storm Warning criteria.”

To put it another way, forecasters are confident that impactful winter weather is on the way and you should use this time to prepare! As the event nears closer, the NWS will update these watches to either a Winter Weather Advisory, a Winter Storm Warning or drop alerts completely if they feel that it is no longer necessary as the forecast changes.

Winter Weather Advisories (WWA)

At this point, hazardous weather is either imminent or already occurring across the region. When it comes to the hierarchy of alerts, a Winter Weather Advisory (WWA) is the middle ground. Hazardous weather is expected and caution should be taken during the event while traveling and around your home but overall impacts to daily life will be limited.

For a WWA to be issued criteria varies from county to county for expected snowfall:

Credit: NOAA/NWS Charleston

Snow isn’t the only reason a Winter Weather Advisory may be issued. Additional criteria include:
• sleet that is enough to cause significant inconvenience or requires extra caution
• and/or freezing rain less than a quarter (1/4″) inch

Winter Storm Warning (WSW)

Similar to a WWA, when a Winter Storm Warning (WSW) is issued the event in question is either imminent or already in progress across the region. When it comes to the severity, this is the next step up from an advisory and is a good indicator a significant impact is possible from a winter storm. Travel and general day-to-day life will be noticeably affected.

There are a few reasons a WSW will be issued. First, if 1/2-inch of sleet is forecasted to accumulate within 24-hours and/or if X amount of snow falls within 12 or 24 hours:

Other Types of Warnings

Blizzard Warning:

  • Sustained wind or frequent gusts of 35 mph or higher
  • AND visibility less than 1/4 mile in snow and/or blowing snow for 3 hours or longer.
  • DOES NOT require snow to actively be falling

Snow Squall Warning:

  • Snow squalls reducing the visibility to 1/4 mile or less in snow with sub-freezing ambient road temperatures
  • OR plunging temperatures behind an arctic front sufficient to produce flash freezes, along with a significant reduction in visibility from falling and/or blowing snow.

Ice Storm Warning:

  • Damaging ice accumulations of 1/4″ or more

All information is courtesy of the National Weather Service office in Charleston, WV.

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