9 Common Terms You’ll Hear In Winter Weather Forecasts



Blizzards are dangerous winter storms whose blowing snow and high winds lead to low visibility and "white out" conditions. While heavy snowfall often occurs with blizzards it isn't needed. In fact, if strong winds pick up snow that's already fallen this would be considered as a blizzard (a "ground blizzard" to be exact.) In order to be considered a blizzard, a snowstorm must have: heavy snow OR blowing snow, winds of 35 mph or more, and a visibility of 1/4 mile or less, all lasting for at least 3 hours.


Winter Driving Preparedness

The first step to driving carefully during the winter season is to always be aware of changing weather conditions from your starting location to your destination. Check out our Road Trip Planner, a helpful tool that provides weather information for your drive, including forecasted conditions and severe alerts along the road.

Car Maintenance

Make sure to prepare your vehicle before the winte

Make sure to prepare your vehicle before the winter season begins. The following handy steps will help you ensure that your vehicle is safe to drive during winter weather:

  1. Check your brakes, transmission and tires
  2. Check that your battery and ignition system is in top condition and that battery terminals are clean
  3. Check radiator coolant and sturdiness of hoses and belts
  4. Check your anti-freeze and thermostat to avoid freezing
  5. Check your windshield wipers and deicing washer fluid
  6. Check your headlights, tail and brake lights, blinkers and emergency flasher
  7. Check your exhaust system, heater and defroster
  8. Check fuel and air filters
  9. Check your oil and power steering fluids
  10. Properly lubricate door locks that may be prone to freezing

Driving Safety

 	Before beginning your trip, check the current ro

  • Before beginning your trip, check the current road conditions and weather forecast. For statewide highway information 24 hours a day checkout your state’s Department of Transportation
  • Keep your car’s windows, mirrors and lights clear of snow and ice
  • Buckle up
  • Allow yourself plenty of time to make it to your destination
  • Be aware of sleet and freezing rain
  • Be aware of potentially icy areas
  • Brake early and slowly and avoid slamming on the brakes
  • Keep a safe distance of at least five seconds behind other vehicles and trucks that are plowing the road
  • When driving on ice and snow, do not use cruise control and avoid abrupt steering maneuvers
  • When merging into traffic, take it slow  Sudden movements can cause your vehicle to slide
  • Don’t pass a snowplow or spreader unless it is absolutely necessary  treat these as you would emergency response vehicles
  • Keep an emergency winter driving kit in your car
  • Maintain at least a half tank of gas during the winter season. This is good for emergency preparedness and it keeps the fuel line from freezing.
  • Most importantly, drive smart!

8. Albedo

The fraction of the sun’s radiation reflected from the Earth’s surface is known as the “albedo,” from the Latin albus, or “whiteness.” A surface’s albedo is given as a figure between 0 (completely black and nonreflective) and 1 (completely white and reflective). This is particularly relevant during winter, since fresh, clean snow has an albedo of up to 0.7-0.85, meaning up to 85 percent of the radiation from the sun (including the radiant heat) is reflected back into the atmosphere. This can create local cooling effects after a new snowfall, even on a very bright, sunny day.

On a very small scale, albedo can be experienced just by changing your shirt from black to white. The darker colors absorb much more of the radiation from the sun, and are much better at keeping you warm, while bright whites can reflect almost all of the heat, and can help keep you cool in the summer.

5. Thundersnow

The conditions required to create thundersnow are most common around lakes (it occasionally accompanies lake-effect snow) and coastal areas. In these places, the sun is able to heat the ground and cause relatively warm and humid columns of unstable air to rise up and form turbulent clouds.

But clouds alone don’t make thundersnow. Only if the layer of air between the clouds and the ground is warmer than the cloud cover, but still cold enough to create snow, and the wind shear is pushing the warmer air slightly upwards, does thundersnow form.

Most instances of thundersnow occur during extreme storms, with high-intensity wind and accumulations of between 2 and 6 inches of snow per hour. The snow can often muffle the thunderclap, meaning that many instances of thundersnow probably go unnoticed.

The effects

This freak weather (= very unusual weather) has caused widespread disruption to services. Severe weather warnings have been issued by the authorities, and in many places, the treacherous driving conditions mean that motorists need to have snow tyres or snowchains on. However, many motorists have got stuck or have broken down (= when your car stops working) on blocked roads, and there are many more emergency call-outs (= when you call someone in an agency to come and help you) than usual. Drivers should only venture out (= try to make a journey) when strictly necessary, and to head out with warm clothes, a shovel (= to clear away snow) and a fully-charged mobile phone.

The authorities have used snow ploughs, salt spreaders and gritters (= all machines to clear the snow or to put salt and grit on the roads to prevent ice) to clear the roads. Schools and public offices are closed, and there are reduced transport services, with some airports closed, flights grounded, and trains cancelled. Main roads have been closed to heavy vehicles (= lorries / trucks). Sports fixtures (= football games, etc) have also been postponed (= delayed to another date).

High winds have brought down power lines (= power cables) in some areas, leading to power cuts. Many homes have been left without electricity or heating, while in some regions, there’s a risk that gas supplies will run out.

Winter Storms Home Preparedness Checklist

  • Before winter approaches, add the following supplies to your emergency kit:
    • Rock salt or more environmentally safe products to melt ice on walkways
    • Sand to improve traction
    • Snow shovels and other snow removal equipment
    • Sufficient heating fuel, like dry, seasoned wood for your fireplace or wood-burning stove
    • Adequate clothing and blankets to keep you warm
  • Make a family emergency plan — Your family may not be together when disaster strikes, so it is important to know how you will contact one another, how you will get back together and what you will do in case of an emergency
  • Listen to a NOAA Weather Radio or other local news channels for critical information from the National Weather Service (NWS) and be alert to changing weather conditions
  • Minimize travel, but keep a disaster supplies kit in your vehicle
  • Bring pets/companion animals inside during winter weather
  • Move other animals or livestock to sheltered areas with non-frozen drinking water

How hard is it snowing?

Like rainfall, there are a number of terms used to describe snowfall depending on how fast or intensely it is falling. These include:

  • Snow Flurries: Flurries are defined as light snow falling for a short duration. They can also be tiny snowflakes falling for longer periods of time. The most accumulation that can be expected is a light dusting of snow.
  • Snow Showers: When snow is falling at varying intensities for brief periods of time, we call it snow showers. Some accumulation is possible, but not guaranteed.
  • Snow Squalls: Often, brief but intense snow showers will be accompanied by strong, gusty winds. These are referred to as snow squalls. Accumulation may be significant.
  • Blowing Snow: Blowing snow is another winter hazard. High wind speeds can blow falling snow into almost horizontal bands. In addition, lighter snows on the ground may be picked up and redistributed by the wind causing reduced visibility, “white out” conditions, and snow drifts.

Edited by Tiffany Means