A Change of Seasons

By: Tony Sturey, Warning Coordination Meteorologist

As we rapidly approach another cold weather season in Maine it is important that we all take a few moments to review important weather safety rules, including those at home, work and at school. For those who have endured many a winter season across our region, this may seem like “old hat”. However, reacquainting ourselves with the dangers and obstacles of winter weather could perhaps save a life. Additionally, we may find family and friends who are new to northern New England, and we must be sure to help those folks prepare for the upcoming winter season. Meanwhile, whether you are new to the area, or perhaps have called Maine your home for generations, it would be highly valuable to understand those definitions employed by the National Weather Service (NWS) which alerts the public to winter weather events that can affect life and property.

Before we catalogue these definitions, it has been noted by this author that the greatest societal impact during a winter season may not necessarily be generated by the strongest storm! Sometimes it is those quick or sudden accumulations of snow and ice, or perhaps black ice or fog freezing on road surfaces, which cause the most headaches. Of course the large ice and snow storms which periodically visit northern New England and southern Canada, they can and occasionally do cause havoc around the region. The moral of this story, don’t let your guard down during the upcoming winter weather season. Heed all watches, warnings and advisories issued by the NWS, and stay abreast of the latest weather forecasts, either issued by the NWS or from your favorite media outlet.

Lastly I would like to stress the importance of snow and ice reports from our network of spotters, co-operative observers and amateur radio operators. Through your efforts in reporting timely snow and ice accumulations, we are able to issue the best products to all of our customers in northern and downeast Maine. I would like to personally emphasize that we value the time and effort required to collect this information, and duly appreciate your services to your communities.

And now for the definitions:

Winter Storm Outlook- Issued when a major storm could impact the area beyond 48 hours. Confidence level is usually 30 percent or greater.

Winter Storm Watch – This product alerts the public to the potential for heavy snow, sleet, freezing rain or blizzard conditions occurring within 12 to 48 hours. Confidence level is usually 50 percent or greater that the watch will be upgraded to a warning.

Winter Storm Warnings – Average snow accumulation of 7 inches or more in 12 hours, or 10 inches or more in 24 hours, or one half inch or more of freezing rain, or one or more inches of sleet. The confidence level for warnings is usually 80 percent or greater.

Blizzard Warning – Sustained winds or frequent gusts greater than or equal to 35 mph, and falling or blowing snow with visibility less than one fourth mile or greater for at least 3 hours.

Wind Chill Warning – Widespread wind chills of 35 degree below zero or lower, with winds greater than or equal to 10 mph. This product may be preceded by a Wind Chill Watch.

Wind Chill Advisory – Widespread wind chills of 20 to 34 degrees below zero with winds greater than or equal to 10 mph.

Winter Weather Advisory – Average snow accumulation of 4 inches but less than 7 inches in 12 hours, or less than one inch of sleet or less than one half inch of freezing rain.

Blowing Snow Advisory – Wind driven snow resulting in visibilities occasionally one fourth of a mile or lower.

Coastal Flood Watch – Coastal flooding not associated with a tropical system possible within 12 to 36 hours.

Coastal Flood Warning – Coastal flooding not associated with a tropical system expected within 12 hours.

High Wind Warning – Sustained winds at least 40 mph for 1 hour or more, or gusts to 58 mph or more for any duration. This product may be preceded by a High Wind Watch.

Wind Advisory – Sustained winds of 31 to 39 mph for 1 hour or more, or gusts from 46 to 57 mph for any duration.

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