When a winter storm threatens our area, the local weather forecasts will contain a variety of terms for watches/warnings/advisories and precipitation types. The following is a list of commonly used terms for winter forecasts.


Advisories: Issued for weather conditions that are hazardous, but not necessarily life threatening.

Blizzard Warning: Issued when snow and strong winds combine to produce low visibility, deep snow drifts, and dangerously low wind chills.

Freezing Rain/Drizzle Advisory: Issued when freezing rain/drizzle will produce hazardous, but not life-threatening, conditions for motorists and pedestrians.

Snow Advisory: Issued when one to three inches of snow is expected to accumulate within 12 to 24 hours.

Watches/Warnings: Issued for life-threatening weather conditions.

Winter Storm Watch: Issued when at least four inches of snow in 12 hours, at least six inches of snow in 24 hours, or significant ice accumulations are possible within 12 hours.

Winter Weather Advisories: Issued when a variety of winter weather precipitation will cause significant inconvenience and may be hazardous, but probably not life threatening.

Forms of Precipitation

Alberta Clipper: A name for a fast moving low pressure system that forms over or near the province of Alberta, Canada and tracks south and east across the northern tier of the U.S. This storm brings strong winds and cold air, but not much snow.

Blowing Snow: Wind-driven snow that reduces visibility and causes significant drifting. Blowing snow may be loose snow picked up by the wind from the ground.

Freezing Rain/Drizzle: Rain/drizzle with temperatures that are below freezing that strikes a surface, such as a road, bridge, sidewalk, tree, or car. The rain/drizzle freezes instantly on impact, forming a layer of ice.

Ice Storm: A label for damaging accumulations of ice resulting from a lengthy period of freezing rain. Significant ice accumulations are usually 1/4 inch or greater.

Nor’easter: An intense area of low pressure that forms along or near the East Coast and rapidly intensifies as it moves toward the north or northeast. These storms are known for producing strong northeast winds, coastal flooding, beach erosion, and heavy precipitation along the U.S. East Coast. These storm systems are also called winter hurricanes.

Sleet: Raindrops that freeze into ice pellets before reaching the ground. Sleet usually bounces when hitting a hard surface. Long periods of falling sleet can result in a minor accumulation and cause hazard to motorists and pedestrians.

Snow: A steady fall of snowflakes for several hours or more.

Snow Flurry:Light snow falling for a short duration and resulting in no accumulation.

Snow Shower:Snow falling at varying intensities for brief periods of time, with some light accumulation possible.

Snowstorm: A label for a heavy snowfall event. The term is used for events in which at least four inches of snow will fall during a 12-hour period, or six inches will fall during a 24-hour period. Strong winds may accompany the snowfall to produce blowing snow and low wind-chill.

Wintry Mix:  An unspecified combination of snow, sleet, freezing rain, and ice.