Winter Storms: 5 Key Facts to Keep in Mind

    Winter Storms: 5 Crucial Facts You Must Know to Stay Prepared

    Winter storms pose a significant threat, and as the upcoming weeks and months bring more frequent weather disturbances, it becomes crucial to stay informed and refresh your knowledge on various aspects related to winter storms. From understanding different alerts to decoding forecasts and recognizing hidden dangers, being well-prepared can make a major difference in safeguarding yourself and your loved ones during extreme winter weather conditions. Here, we present five essential things you need to know to be adequately prepared for winter storms.

    1. Key Winter Storm Alerts You Should Be Familiar With

    The National Weather Service (NWS) issues a range of winter storm alerts that provide valuable information about potential hazards. Some of the most important alerts you may come across during winter include:

    – Winter Storm Watch: This alert implies that significant winter weather conditions such as snow, ice, and strong winds are possible in your area within the next 48 hours. It serves as a warning to prepare for potentially hazardous conditions.

    – Winter Storm Warning: When a winter storm warning is issued, it indicates that significant and high-impact winter weather is either imminent or already occurring. This could manifest as heavy snowfall, sleet, freezing rain, or strong winds.

    – Winter Weather Advisory: This advisory is relevant when winter weather conditions may cause inconvenience and disruption, although not severe enough to warrant a warning. It often implies poor travel conditions, slippery surfaces, and limited visibility.

    – Blizzard Warning: A blizzard warning is issued when specific visibility and wind thresholds are met. It signifies the potential for heavy snow accompanied by strong winds, reducing visibility to below a quarter-mile for at least three hours. Blizzards can be dangerous and require utmost caution.

    – Ice Storm Warning: These warnings are relatively less frequent but essential to note. They indicate the possibility of significant ice accumulation due to freezing rain, which can result in widespread power outages, damage to trees, and hazardous driving conditions.

    The criteria for these alerts may vary depending on your geographical location, so it is important to stay updated with local forecasts and warnings.

    2. Understanding Different Types of Ice

    While snow is a well-known winter phenomenon, understanding the different forms of ice that can accompany winter storms is equally important:

    – Sleet: This type of ice falls as ice pellets and often makes a distinct “ping” sound when it hits surfaces like car windshields or skylights. Sleet can accumulate, making travel conditions slippery.

    – Freezing Rain: Freezing rain often resembles normal rain but freezes upon contact with cold surfaces, such as roads, trees, power lines, and structures. It creates hazardous conditions and poses a serious risk for travelers.

    Distinguishing between snow, sleet, and freezing rain depends on temperature variations at different atmospheric levels, as explained in the accompanying graphic.

    3. The Fluid Nature of Winter Forecasts

    When it comes to snowfall forecasts, accuracy diminishes the further out you look. Forecasts for winter storms, especially those beyond a couple of days, can be subject to significant changes. It is crucial to rely on reliable sources rather than viral social media posts, as computer model forecasts can vary as new atmospheric data is received.

    To illustrate this point, consider two computer model forecasts generated just 12 hours apart for a potential winter weather event. Despite a short time period, the forecasts differ drastically, with one showing a significant winter storm and the other indicating mostly rain. Therefore, it is paramount to check for forecast updates as the winter event approaches and rely on trustworthy sources for accurate information.

    4. Beware of the “Sneaky” Hazards Associated with Winter Weather

    Even seemingly light snowfall or ice can pose significant dangers and amplify the risk for accidents. Surprisingly, a significant number of fatal snow-related traffic accidents occur during light or brief snowfall that does not warrant an official NWS winter storm warning or advisory. Therefore, it is crucial to recognize and remain cautious of the following hidden winter weather hazards:

    – Snow Squalls: These brief but intense bursts of heavy snowfall can drastically impact driving conditions, resulting in reduced visibility and sudden danger. They often catch drivers off guard, causing major highway accidents.

    – Freezing Fog: Fog not only impairs visibility but also presents the risk of icing on surfaces. When temperatures are below freezing, fog droplets become supercooled and freeze upon contact with subfreezing surfaces. This can lead to icy road conditions, especially on bridges and overpasses.

    5. How to Prepare and Stay Safe During Winter Storms

    Taking necessary precautions and preparing well ahead of a winter storm can significantly enhance your safety. Here are some crucial steps to consider:

    – Stock up on essential supplies: Ensure you have an emergency kit ready at home, including flashlights, batteries, extra food, water, necessary medications, a first-aid kit, a battery-powered radio, and a reliable heat source. If you have pets, make sure to have extra food and a warm shelter for them.

    – Traveling in wintry conditions: If you must travel during a winter storm, proceed with caution. Drive slowly, avoid sudden stops or changes in direction, and check all your vehicle’s fluid levels, lights, and windshield wipers before setting off. Maintain a sufficient amount of fuel in your gas tank to prevent ice formation and check road conditions before embarking on your journey.

    – Carry necessary equipment in your car: It is advisable to keep a shovel, sand or cat litter for traction, a windshield scraper and brush, a tow rope, a tool kit, booster cables, a compass, and roadmaps in your vehicle. These items can prove invaluable if you get stuck or lose your way.

    – Emergency supplies for getting stranded: In case you find yourself stranded, make sure to have a phone and charger, extra batteries, blankets, a flashlight, a first-aid kit, non-perishable food, extra clothing, candles, matches, and a water container. Dressing in layers when heading outdoors in winter is also crucial for maintaining warmth.

    By adhering to these key points, you can better equip yourself to navigate the challenges posed by winter storms, ensuring your safety and the safety of those around you. Remember, being adequately prepared and staying informed can make all the difference when facing extreme winter weather.

    Disclaimer: The Weather Company is committed to reporting on breaking weather news and the environment while emphasizing the importance of science. This article does not necessarily reflect the views of its parent company, IBM.

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