Meadows Blog

Tuesday, October 18: Watch, Warning, or Advisory? What do they mean?

The week of October 16-22 is Winter Weather Awareness Week in the Pacific Northwest, including the states of Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Each day, a new topic will be discussed, along with new informational links. This is republished with permission from the National Weather Forecast Office in Portland, OR.


A goal of the National Weather Service is to provide information on winter storms, with enough advance notice to allow the whole community to take actions needed to prepare for and deal with adverse and sometimes dangerous weather conditions. As the threat of severe winter weather draws closer, and the confidence in the location and timing of the event increases, the National Weather Service will issue various bulletins that become increasingly more specific. Here is what these bulletins mean, and what precautions you should take:

NOAA's National Weather Service uses a four-tier approach to alert the public for the potential for severe weather or high fire danger. This four-tier approach consists of outlooks, advisories, watches and warnings.

1) Winter Storm Outlook...
A winter storm outlook is issued when conditions are favorable for hazardous winter weather to develop within the next 3 to 7 days. It is intended for those groups that require considerable lead time to prepare for the event.

ACTION: Stay tuned to local media or monitor NOAA Weather Radio for updates. Evaluate your emergency action plan and the resources you have in your home, car or work place to deal with a winter storm.

2) Winter Storm Watch...
A winter storm watch is issued when the risk of hazardous winter weather has increased, but occurrence, location and timing is still somewhat uncertain. Generally, a watch is issued when there is a significant threat of severe winter weather in the next 12 to 48 hours.

ACTION: You should prepare now and ensure that all emergency plans and resources are in place.
Note: Winter Storm Watches may be upgraded to Winter Storm Warnings, if conditions warrant.

3) Winter Weather Advisory...
Winter weather advisories are issued for less serious winter weather conditions that are occurring, or have a high likelihood of occurring. These products are used for winter weather situations that are less severe than a Warning, but will cause significant inconvenience. These situations should not be life threatening, damage is usually localized and the main danger is hazardous travel.
Note: This advisory may be upgraded to a Winter Storm Warning if conditions warrant.

4) Winter Storm Warning...
A winter storm warning is issued when a hazardous winter weather event is occurring, imminent, or has a very high probability of occurrence. Warning products are used for conditions that pose a threat to life or property. Winter Storm warnings are issued for several types of hazardous winter weather, including heavy snow, sleet, or a combination of snow and wind.


5) Ice Storm Warning...
An ice storm warning is issued when freezing rain will accumulate at a rate that causes a coating of ice that will make outdoor activities dangerous. Tree limbs and power lines fall under the weight of the ice. These conditions are fairly rare but, when they occur, can be especially dangerous.

6) Blizzard Warning...
Blizzard warnings are issued when:
  • There are sustained wind speeds of 35 mph or more, or frequents wind gusts of 35 mph or more.
  • Considerable falling and/or blowing snow is occurring, reducing visibility to less then 1/4 of a mile.

7) Dangerous Wind Chill Warning...
Wind chill warnings are issued when the wind chill of -20 degrees or colder are expected or occurring and:

8) Avalanche Warning...
Avalanche warnings are issued by the Northwest Avalanche Forecast Center, located in Seattle. These products are issued when there is a significant threat of avalanches in the Cascades and Olympics backcountry, possibly affecting mountain roadways and other high country interests.
[For more info, see the NW Avalanche Center's website]

    Additional Links of Interest...
  1. NOAA's Weather Safety website
  2. Preparedness for Severe Weather
  3. Each local office may have historic storm data and photographs online (see office links below)

Remember, in times of hazardous winter weather, you can get all these vital NOAA/National Weather Service messages via NOAA Weather Radio, your favorite local media, or through NOAA's National Weather Service websites.

For questions about local Winter Weather Preparedness, contact your local NOAA National Weather Service Office:
local office contact by email contact by phone
Medford Ryan Sandler 541-773-1067
Seattle Ted Buehner 206-526-6087
Spokane Anthony Cavallucci 509-244-6395
Pendleton Dennis Hull 541-276-4493
Portland Tyree Wilde 503-261-9246
Boise Jay Breidenbach 208-334-9861
Pocatello Vern Preston 208-233-0834
Missoula Marty Whitmore 406-329-4840

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