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What’s the difference between a winter storm watch, warning, advisory?

Weather updates this weekend could be confusing. Learn what they all mean.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Winter weather in the forecast has a lot of people closely watching WFMY meteorologists and tuning into the forecast, but wintry weather can be challenging-- especially in the case of what we are expecting this weekend. Advisories, watches, and warnings are all possible this weekend as the snow, ice, or sleet barrel into Central Piedmont on Sunday. 

Winter Storm Watch

A winter storm watch is issued, when a winter storm event is likely. 

Blizzard Watch 

A blizzard watch is when there is a likelihood of a blizzard. Not every storm has been deemed a blizzard! It must meet certain criteria including an event with less than 1/4 mile of visibility with winds of at least 35 mph.

 Advisories can be issued for winter weather or freezing rain! To be clear, the name freezing rain comes from the concept that once the cold rain touches the ground it freezes upon contact. It may be cold outside, but just not cold enough for that rain to freeze into sleet before hitting the ground! So, we need at least 1/4" of ice to accumulate for the freezing rain advisory to be called.

Winter Weather Advisory

But, what about the winter weather advisory? This is issued when one of the following happens:

  1. Snow of 3 to 5" in 12 hours
  2. Sleet of less than 1/2"
  3. Blowing snow
  4. Freezing Rain with Snow or Sleet

In any event, whether winter or not, warning means 'take cover' now! Whatever weather is happening is a big deal and you need to get to safety, immediately. Winter storm, ice storm, and blizzard are the three types of warnings to prepare for, during the winter.

Winter Storm Warning 

If your phone buzzes or your television rings a bell and 'winter storm warning'  flashes across your screen, you will see a mixed bag of heavy snow of 6" within 12 hours or 8" within 24 hours or sleet of 1/2"  or more.


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