Weather Wednesday: The meanings behind winter watches and warnings

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LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – Eventually, we will see more snow along with cooler temperatures in our forecasts.
So it is important that you understand the meaning behind the various watches and warnings that the national weather service puts out during the winter season.


There are three different types of winter weather statements that the National Weather Service can issue; from a winter weather advisory, the least severe of the three, to a winter storm warning, the most severe.

Let’s dive into the meanings behind these statements and what they could mean for you.

When the National Weather Service issues a winter weather advisory, like some locations in western Michigan saw this weekend, it usually means that meteorologists are tracking a system that could bring sleet, snow, freezing rain, or a combination of those within the next 12 to 36 hours.

Now when looking at the conditions there’s a set of criteria that a system needs to meet for an advisory to be put in place. We need snow totals 4 inches or more in 12 hours or less, and that snow needs to cover at least 50% of the county or affect most of the population but stays below the criteria

When we look at a winter weather watch we are looking at a winter weather event that could meet or exceed the criteria for a winter weather warning, taking place in the next 24 to 72 hours. The criteria for this watch is slightly different than that of an advisory, we are looking at snow accumulations of 7 inches or more in the next 12 hours or 9 inches or more in the next 24 hours.

Finally, we will look at a winter weather warning. When this is in effect, we are looking at a winter storm event set to take place in the next 12 to 36 hours, so a closer timeframe than that of a winter weather watch but has the same criteria.

Now that you know the conditions and timeframes associated with these winter weather statements, you can have more knowledge on how to prepare and what to expect when the national weather service issues one of these three.

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