For those who live in New England, winter weather is a part of life from November through March. Snow, sleet, freezing rain, cold temperatures and cold wind chill temperatures will be common occurrences soon. While most of the time these weather elements are only a nuisance to our daily routines, at times they can produce hazardous or life-threatening situations for those who are not prepared. To alert the public to potentially dangerous winter weather events or situations, the National Weather Service issues outlooks, watches, warnings and advisories.
You should keep the following general definitions in mind.
Outlook - A Hazardous Weather Outlook is issued daily by National Weather Service offices across the country to alert the public to the potential for any hazardous weather during the next 7 days, including significant winter storms, high wind, coastal flooding, and extreme temperatures. Due to the uncertainty in predicting the strength and path of a winter storm more than several days in advance, the exact impact on the area (if any) will not be known. In addition, National Weather Service offices may issue Special Weather Statements highlighting the potential impact of a major winter storm.
NWS product - Hazardous Weather Outlook.
Watch - Watches are issued to alert the public that dangerous winter conditions are possible within the next 24 to 48 hours, when forecaster confidence reaches 50 percent. Products include, Winter Storm Watches, High Wind Watches, and Coastal Flood Watches.
Warning - Warnings are issued to alert the public that dangerous winter conditions are likely to occur within the next 36 hours or are occurring. Forecaster confidence has to reach 80 percent or higher. Products include, Winter Storm Warning, Ice Storm Warning, Blizzard Warning, High Wind Warning, Wind Chill Warning and Coastal Flood Warning.
Advisory- Advisories are issued to alert the public that winter conditions are expected to cause a significant inconvenience and may be hazardous. If caution is exercised, these situations should not be life- threatening. Products include, Winter Weather Advisory, Freezing Rain Advisory, Wind Advisory and Wind Chill Advisory.
Specific thresholds for advisories, watches and warnings vary by state.
They can be found at www.erh.noaa.gov/box/warningcriteria.shtml