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Buffalo New York

Winter Weather Terms

Winter Weather Safety

 WINTER STORM OUTLOOK: Issued when there is a chance of a major winter storm from 3 to 5 days in the future. This is meant to assist people with their long range plans. However, since the outlook is issued so far in advance, the accuracy of the prediction may be limited.

 WINTER STORM WATCH: Issued when there may be hazardous winter weather due to various elements such as heavy snow, sleet, or ice accumulation from freezing rain. In our region, heavy snow means 7 inches or more of accumulation in 12 hours or less, or 9 inches or more of accumulation in 24 hours or less.

  LAKE EFFECT SNOW WATCH: Issued when there is a possibility of heavy lake effect snow (accumulating 7 inches of more within a 12 hour period or 9 inches or more within a 24 hour period). Lake effect snow usually occurs in narrow bands over limited areas.

 BLIZZARD WATCH: Issued when conditions are favorable for a blizzard event within the next 12 to 48 hours.
 HEAVY SNOW WARNING: Issued for 7 inches or more of snow within a 12 hour period or 9 inches or more of snow within a 24 hour period.

 LAKE EFFECT SNOW WARNING: Issued when heavy lake effect snow is occurring, is imminent, or has a very high probability of occurring within the next 12 hours. The snow is expected to accumulate 7 inches or more within a 12 hour period or 9 inches or more within a 24 hour period. This is similar to a Heavy Snow Warning, except Great Lakes induced squalls/showers occur in narrow bands and over limited areas. Lake effect snow squalls/showers can occur quite suddenly and cause blizzard-like conditions. 

Is issued when ice accumulation of ˝ inch or greater (enough to bring down power lines) is expected within the next 12 hours.

Is issued when severe winter weather having more than one predominant hazard (for example heavy snow and blowing snow, snow and ice, or combination of heavy snow, sleet, and/or freezing rain) is expected within the next 12 hours.

 BLIZZARD WARNING: Is issued for severe winter conditions including a combination of strong winds averaging or frequently gusting to, or above, 35 miles an hour and very low visibility due to blowing or falling snow. These are the most dangerous winter storms and can be especially severe when combined with temperatures below 10 degrees.

Advisories, in general, are issued for weather conditions that are expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous, These situations are normally not life threatening if caution is exercised.

WINTER WEATHER ADVISORIES are issued for winter events having more than one predominant hazard, meeting the advisory criteria for at least one of the elements, but remaining below warning criteria. Examples include could include freezing rain, snow and ice or snow and sleet.

We also issue several "non-precipitation" watches, warnings and advisories: 

Is issued when conditions are favorable for damaging winds to occur within 12 to 48 hours.

A WIND CHILL WATCH: Is issued when there is a possibility of dangerous wind chill values.

HIGH WIND WARNING: Expected winds will average 40 mph or more for at least 1 hour or winds gusts will be greater than 58 mph. Trees and power lines can be blown down. 

WIND CHILL WARNING: Life threatening cold with wind chill temperatures computed to be -25 degrees or less (-30 degrees or less in Jefferson and Lewis counties) for at least 3 hours. Exposure to this combination of strong winds and low temperatures without protective clothing will quickly lead to frostbite and/or hypothermia. Longer exposures can be fatal.

WIND ADVISORY: Issued for average wind speeds between 31 and 39 mph, or for frequent wind gusts between 46 and 57 mph.

 WIND CHILL ADVISORY: Issued for cold temperatures and winds, with wind chill temperatures computed to be -15 degrees or less (-20 degrees or less for Jefferson and Lewis counties) for at least 3 hours. Exposure to this combination of strong winds and low temperatures without protective clothing can lead to frostbite and/or hypothermia. Prolonged exposure may be fatal.

LAKESHORE FLOOD WARNING:  Issued only when Lake Erie is expected to reach or exceed 8 feet.


OUTSIDE:  Find shelter: Try to stay dry. Cover all exposed parts of the body.
No shelter: Prepare a lean-to, wind-break, or snow cave for protection from the wind. Build a fire for heat and to attract attention. Place rocks around the fire to absorb and reflect heat.
Do not eat snow. It will lower your body temperature. Melt it first.

Stay in your car or truck. Disorientation occurs quickly in wind-driven snow and cold.

Run the motor about ten minutes each hour for heat:
  • open the window a little for fresh air to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • make sure the exhaust pipe is not blocked.

Make yourself visible to rescuers:

  • turn on the dome light at night when running engine.
  • tie a colored cloth (preferably red) to your antenna or door.
  • raise the hood indicating trouble after snow stops falling.

Exercise from time to time by vigorously moving arms, legs, fingers, and toes to keep blood circulating and to keep warm.
AT HOME OR IN A BUILDING: Stay inside. When using alternative heat from a fireplace, wood stove, space heater, etc.: 

  • use fire safeguards.
  • properly ventilate.
No heat:
  • close off unneeded rooms.
  • stuff towels or rags in cracks under doors.
  • cover windows at night.
Eat and drink. Food provides the body with energy for producing its own heat. Keep the body replenished with fluids to prevent dehydration. Wear layers of loose-fitting, light-weight, warm clothing. Remove layers to avoid overheating, perspiration, and subsequent chill.
AVOID OVEREXERTION, such as shoveling heavy snow, pushing a car, or walking in deep snow. The strain from the cold and the hard labor may cause a heart attack. Sweating could lead to a chill and hypothermia.
When CAUGHT in a Winter Storm...
KEEP AHEAD OF THE STORM by listening to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, and television for the latest winter storm watches, warnings, and advisories.

What to Listen For:

WINTER STORM WATCH: Severe winter conditions, such as heavy snow and/or ice, are possible within the next day or two. Prepare now! 
WINTER STORM WARNING: Severe winter conditions have begun or are about to begin in your area. Stay indoors!
BLIZZARD WARNING: Snow and strong winds will combine to produce a blinding snow, near zero visibility, deep drifts, and life-threatening wind chill. Seek refuge immediately!
Winter weather conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous. If caution is exercised, these situations should not become life-threatening. The greatest hazard is often to motorists.
Below freezing temperatures are expected and may cause significant damage to plants, crops or fruit trees. In areas unaccustomed to freezing temperatures, people who have homes without heat need to take added precautions.

BE PREPARED. Before the Storm strikes, at home and at work...

Primary concerns are the potential loss of heat, power, telephone service, and a shortage of supplies if storm conditions continue for more than a day.

 Have available:

  • Flashlight and extra batteries.
  • Battery-powered NOAA Weather Radio and portable radio to receive emergency information. These may be your only links to the outside.
  • Extra food and water. High energy food, such as dried fruit or candy, and food requiring no cooking or refrigeration is best.
  • Extra medicine and baby items.
  • First-aid supplies.
  • Heating fuel. Fuel carriers may not reach you for days after a severe winter storm.
  • Emergency heating source, such as a fireplace, wood stove, space heater, etc.
    • Learn to use properly to prevent a fire.
    • Have proper ventilation.
    • Fire extinguisher and smoke detector.
    • Test units regularly to ensure they are working properly.


  • Move animals to sheltered areas.
  • Shelter belts, properly laid out and oriented, are better protection for cattle than confining shelters, such as sheds.
  • Haul extra feed to nearby feeding areas.
  • Have a water supply available. Most animal deaths in winter storms are from dehydration.


Plan your travel and check the latest weather reports to avoid the storm!

  • Fully check and winterize your vehicle before the winter season begins.
    • Blankets/sleeping bags; flashlight with extra batteries; first-aid kit; knife; high-calorie, non-perishable food; extra clothing to keep dry; a large empty can and plastic cover with tissues and paper towels for sanitary purposes; a smaller can and water-proof matches to melt snow for drinking water; sack of sand (or cat litter); shovel; windshield scraper and brush; tool kit; tow rope; booster cables; water container; compass and road maps.
    • Keep your gas tank near full to avoid ice in the tank and fuel lines.
    • Try not to travel alone.
    • Let someone know your timetable and primary and alternate routes.
DRESS TO FIT THE SEASON. Wear loose…fitting, light-weight, warm clothing in several layers. Trapped air insulates. Layers can be removed to avoid perspiration and subsequent chill. Outer garments should be tightly woven, water repellent, and hooded. Wear a hat. Half your body heat loss can be from the head. Cover your mouth to protect your Iungs from extreme cold. Mittens, snug at the wrist, are better than gloves. Try to stay dry.  

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National Weather Service
Weather Forecast Office Buffalo
587 Aero Drive
Buffalo, N.Y. 14225-1405
(716)565-0204 or (716)565-0802

Page last modified: October 25, 2008
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