OSWEGO, NY – Most of us have heard the terms weather forecasters throw around when talking about their craft. However, what do they actually mean?
With snow in the air, accompanied by some thunder, now might be a good time to learn some terms and their definitions to help you be better prepared for most any weather situation that may pop up over the next few months.
The terms and their meanings are courtesy of Bill Gregway, local observer for the National Weather Service.
WINTER STORM OUTLOOK: This is a statement issued when there is a chance of a major winter storm from three to five days in the future.
It is meant to assist people with their long-range planning. Since the outlook is issued so far in advance, however, its accuracy may be limited.
WINTER STORM WATCH: This means that there may be hazardous winter weather due to various elements such as heavy snow, sleet or other factors.
Heavy snow, in the Oswego area, means seven inches or more accumulation in a 24-hour period or less.
A watch is a long-range prediction. It is usually issued at least 12 hours prior to the expected start of any dangerous winter weather.
When the storm becomes imminent, or has a very high chance of occurring, the watch is upgraded to a warning.
WINTER STORM WARNING FOR HEAVY SNOW: This means that seven or more inches of snow is expected to fall within a 24-hour period.
WINTER STORM WARNING FOR SEVERE ICING: A heavy accumulation of ice due to freezing rain, likely to down trees and utility lines.
Electricity and telephone service may be out for a long period of time. Roads may become impassable for most vehicles.
BLIZZARD WARNING: This is issued for a combination of strong winds, averaging or frequently gusting to, or above, 35 miles per hour, heavy snowfall, and very low visibility due to blowing or falling snow.
These are the most dangerous winter storms. They can be especially severe when combined with temperatures below 10 degrees.
WINTER STORM WARNING: This is issued when a dangerous combination of heavy snow, with sleet or freezing rain will occur or has a high chance of occurring within the next 12 hours.
HIGH WIND WARNING: This means to expect winds will average 40 miles per hour or higher for at least one hour. Or, that wind gusts will be greater than 58 miles per hour.
Trees and utility lines can be blown down.
A high wind watch may precede a high wind warning if the strong winds are not expected to be occurring for at least 12 hours.
WIND CHILL WARNING: This means life-threatening cold with windchill temperatures computed to be 40 degrees below zero or colder for at least three hours.
Exposure to this combination of strong winds and low temperatures without protective clothing will quickly lead to frostbite and/or hypothermia.
Long exposures can be fatal.
SNOW ADVISORY: This is issued for snowfalls greater than four inches, but less than seven inches, in a 24-hour period.
The heavy snowfall is usually expected to begin within the next 12 hours.
BLOWING SNOW ADVISORY: When the visibility is expected to be significantly reduced, or when the roads become snow-covered over a large area this advisory is posted.
WIND CHILL ADVISORY: This is issued for cold temperatures and winds, with wind chill temperatures computed to be 25 degrees below zero or colder for at least three hours.
Exposure to this combination of strong winds and low temperatures without protective clothing can lead to frostbite and/or hypothermia.
Prolonged exposure may be fatal.
WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY: This is issued for a combination of snow, sleet, and/or freezing rain.
Advisories, in general, are issued for weather conditions that are expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous.
These situations are normally not life threatening if caution is exercised.
WIND ADVISORY: This is issued average wind speeds between 31-39 miles per hour, or for frequent gusts between 46-57 miles per hour.
LAKE EFFECT SNOW WATCH: When there is a possibility of heavy lake-effect snow, accumulating seven inches or more in a 24-hour period, this watch is posted.
Lake effect snow usually occurs in narrow bands over limited areas.
The watch is issued at least 12 hours prior to the expected start of the heavy lake effect snow.
Its occurrence, location and/or timing are still uncertain, however.
LAKE EFFECT SNOW WARNING: This is issued when heavy lake-effect snow is occurring, is imminent or has a very high probability of occurring within the next 12 hours.
The snow is expected to accumulate at least seven inches with strong winds producing much higher drifts.
This is similar to a winter storm warning for heavy snow, except Great Lakes-induced squalls/showers occur in narrow bands and over limited areas.
Lake-effect snow can occur quite suddenly and cause blizzard-like conditions.
LAKE-EFFECT SNOW ADVISORY: This advisory is issued when Great Lakes-induced snowfall in western and central New York is expected to total between four to seven inches within a 12-hour period.
Blowing and drifting snow is also common in relatively limited areas and narrow bands.
SNOW SQUALL WARNING: This is issued in western and central New York when snow squalls originating from the Great Lakes are expected to accumulate at least six inches in a 12-hour period.
This is similar to a heavy snow warning. However, Great Lakes-induced squalls occur in narrow bands and over limited areas.
These squalls can occur quite suddenly and may cause blizzard-like conditions.