Winter Weather Alerts: Do You Know What They Mean?

Some winters are fraught with peril at every turn. Warnings, watches, alerts, special weather statements, polar vortexes and more. What does it all mean? These are a few basics of winter weather alerts so that you are in the know this winter and can plan accordingly.

Watches and Warnings

Warnings and watches exist to warn people of severe winter weather conditions that are likely to arrive within a certain period of time.

Winter Storm Watch. This winter weather watch is generally issued when winter storm conditions are anticipated within the next three days but remains questionable due to uncertainty in regards to track, timing, and/or intensity.

Winter Storm Warning. A warning is issued when heavy snow that may be accompanied by winds in excess of 15 mph and blowing snow are expected within the next 36 hours.

Blizzard Watch.  These are issued 12 to 36 hours ahead of an anticipated blizzard.

Blizzard Warning.  The blizzard warning indicates that the following conditions are expected to last three hours or more:

  • Sustained winds exceeding 35 mph
  • Considerable snowfall and/or drifting snow
  •  Visibilities of ¼ mile or less

Ice Storm Warning.  When heavy accumulations of ice (0.25 to 0.50 inches or greater) are expected, ice storm warnings are issued.

Wind Chill Watch/Warning. The requirements for wind chill watches and warnings vary considerably, but typically indicate that wind chills will dip low enough to be life threatening for anyone exposed to them.


Advisories are issued when there is winter weather ahead that is noteworthy but does not meet the specific criteria required for a watch or warning.

Freezing Rain Advisory. The advisories are issued when accumulating freezing rain is anticipated.

Blowing Snow Advisor. When winds pick up and snow is on the ground, there is the possibility for snow blowing back onto roads that had been cleared and to create visibility problems for drivers.

Freezing Fog Advisory. Widespread fog events in areas with sub-zero temperatures, visibility is limited to 0.25 miles or less and a thin glaze of ice is left behind leading to potentially treacherous driving conditions.

Wind Chill Advisory. These indicate that it’s possible for wind chills to reach dangerous levels in certain areas. The requirements for temperature vary greatly from region to region and even between counties.

What About Polar Vortexes?

The winter of 2014 taught us that things can get cold and stay cold quickly. Fortunately, it is rare for polar vortexes to extend as far south (the 2014 polar vortex strayed all the way down to Tampa, Florida) and for as long as they did in 2014.

Why do business owners need to be concerned about winter weather alerts? Because winter weather can have a direct impact on your business. That’s why it’s important for businesses to have adequate business insurance (business insurance, business auto insurance, property insurance, and liability coverage) for winter in all its glory and all the weather conditions it throws your way, such as slips and falls on wet floors or icy sidewalks, and other more.