Winter Weather Notices You Need to Know

Dec 14, 2023 2 min read

If you live in a state that gets snow and ice, you know that a snowstorm can put a damper on travel plans, even if your plan only involves driving to work. During winter months, you likely start your day by watching the weather forecast or checking the weather app on your phone. When the forecast calls for a winter storm, do you know how to differentiate between the various terms? From blizzard warnings to wind chill alerts, we’ve developed a handy guide to help you understand what the different winter weather notices mean.

What Does a Winter Storm Warning Mean?

A warning indicates that weather conditions pose a threat to life or property, and that travel will become difficult to impossible. Typically, a winter storm watch will be issued in advance of the storm, usually at least 24 hours before the storm begins. 

It typically indicates that the risk of a hazardous winter weather event has increased (at least a 50% chance of it occurring), but its occurrence, location and/or timing is still uncertain. It is intended to provide enough time for you to make plans to stay safe. As the event becomes imminent, a watch will normally be upgraded to a warning, which indicates an 80% or greater probability of occurrence. 

Decoding Common Winter Weather Terms 

When it comes to forecasting the weather, meteorologists often seem to have their own language which can sometimes make it difficult to assess how severely you may be impacted by a looming storm. Here’s how to understand the most common winter weather terms — and what they mean for you.

Winter Storm Advisory

When you hear the term “advisory,” it means that winter weather is approaching your area, but it hasn’t started yet. In the case of a winter weather advisory, you will likely see light snow, some blowing and possibly slick conditions caused by snow blowing over the roads.

Winter Storm Watch

Be prepared for snow, sleet or ice, because the conditions are present in the atmosphere for winter weather, but they likely haven’t started yet.

Winter Storm Warning

If forecasters are using the term “warning,” they are confident that you will experience a winter storm with heavy snow, sleet or freezing rain, which will impact your travel.

Freezing Rain

This is the term used when the rain freezes upon hitting the ground. The air may be warm enough that rain falls in liquid form, but the ground is cold enough that it will freeze water droplets when they hit the ground. As you can imagine, freezing rain creates slick driving conditions for travelers.


Sleet is a mixture of rain, snow, ice pellets or hail. Sleet occurs when air temperatures are as cold as the ground temperatures, so moisture freezes as it falls.

Wind Chill

The wind chill is based on how fast people lose heat based on the heat loss from exposed skin. (The higher the wind, the faster you will lose heat during already cold conditions). A wind chill warning is issued when chills are expected to reach levels low enough to cause severe frostbite, hypothermia or other life-threatening conditions.


A blizzard is a type of severe winter storm that causes reduced visibility because strong winds (35 mph or more) are blowing falling snow and snow that is already on the ground. Many people associate severe temperatures with blizzards, but extreme cold isn’t necessarily required for a blizzard.

Are You Prepared for Winter Weather?

Don’t let winter weather put a damper on your plans. Be sure to regularly watch the forecast and plan ahead.

When severe weather hits, you may not have time to grab emergency essentials. Prepare now by building an emergency supply kit in your home. Think about your basic supply needs, and then consider the unique needs of family members. If Mother Nature strikes, you’ll be prepared.

If you travel, it’s always a good idea to build a winter weather travel kit for your car, filled with the necessities in case a storm pops up. And don’t forget to winterize your car before the cold season begins in your state.

Don’t Get Stuck Out in the Cold

Nobody wants to be stranded on the side of the road, especially during frigid winter weather. Consider talking to you Farm Bureau agent about adding Roadside Assistance to your auto policy.

Want to learn more?

Contact a local FBFS agent or advisor for answers personalized to you.