National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Nebraska Winter Weather Awareness Day

NWS Winter Weather Terminology

Winter Storm
Photo courtesty of Nebraska Department of Roads Region 6

Overview Terminology Home and Work Safety Driving Safety Road Conditions Weather Sources

Understanding and Staying Aware of the Weather


  • Outlook: Winter Storm conditions are possible in the next 2-5 days. The Outlook information can be found in the Hazardous Weather Outlooks produced by North Platte | Cheyenne | Sioux Falls | Omaha | Hastings | Goodland


  • Watch: Winter storm conditions are possible within the next 12-48 hours. Prepare now!


  • Warning: Life-threatening severe winter conditions have begun or will begin within 24 hours. Act now!


  • Advisory: Winter weather conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous. If you are cautious, these situations should not be life threatening.


  • Blizzard: Winds of 35 mph or more with snow and blowing snow reducing visibility to less than 1/4 mile for at least 3 hours.


  • Blowing Snow: Wind driven snow that reduces visibility. Blowing snow may be falling snow and/or snow on the ground picked up by the wind.


  • Snow Squalls: Brief, intense snow showers accompanied by strong, gusty winds. Accumulation may be significant.


  • Snow Showers: Snow falling at varying intensities for brief periods of time. Some accumulation is possible.


  • Snow Flurries: Light snow falling for short durations with little or no accumulation.


  • Ice Jams: Long cold spells can cause rivers and lakes to freeze. A rise in the water level or a thaw breaks the ice into large chunks which become jammed at man made and natural obstructions. Ice jams can act as a dam, resulting in severe flooding.


  • Snow Melt: Sudden thaw of a heavy snow pack often leads to flooding.


  • Wind Chill: Not the actual temperature but rather how wind and cold feel on exposed skin. As the wind increases, heat is carried away from the body at an accelerated rate, driving down the body temperature. Animals are also affected by wind chill; however, cars, plants and other objects are not.


  • Frostbite: Damage to body tissue caused by extreme cold. A wind chill of -20 degrees Fahrenheit (F) will cause frostbite in just 30 minutes. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in extremities, such as fingers, toes, ear lobes or the tip of the nose. If symptoms are detected, get medical help immediately! If you must wait for help, slowly rewarm affected areas. However, if the person is also showing signs of hypothermia, warm the body core before the extremities.


  • Hypothermia: A condition brought on when the body temperature drops to less than 95 degrees F. It can kill. For those who survive, there are likely to be lasting kidney, liver and pancreas problems. Warning signs include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and apparent exhaustion. Take the person's temperature. If below 95 degrees F, seek medical care immediately.