What's the difference between winter weather watches, warnings and advisories?



The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration's National Weather Service uses the weather terms to let us know what kind of weather conditions are heading our way.

A " winter storm watch " is like a storm-preparation alert, meaning a possibility of a blizzard, heavy snow, freezing rain or sleet. A "watch" typically is announced 12 to 48 hours before the start of a winter storm.

If a "watch" is upgraded to a " winter storm warning ", that means the wintry weather is close or occurring. "Warnings" are issued for heavy accumulations of snow, freezing rain or sleet.

A " winter weather advisory " is issued for accumulations of snow, freezing rain, freezing drizzle and sleet that will cause significant problems. Extreme caution should be used in these instances.

What's the difference between snow, sleet, freezing rain and more?

Here are the precipitation definitions, according to USA Today's Weather Book:

SNOW : falling ice composed of crystals in complex hexagonal forms; it forms mainly when water vapor turns directly to ice without going through the liquid stage, a process called sublimation.

SNOW FLURRIES : light showers of snow that do not cover large areas and do not fall steadily for long periods of time.

SLEET : drops of rain or drizzle that freeze into ice as they fall; they usually are smaller than 3/10 inch in diameter.

FREEZING RAIN OR DRIZZLE : falling rain or drizzle that cools below 32 degrees but does not turn to ice in the air; when the drops hit anything, they instantly turn into ice.