Weather 101: Know The Difference – Winter Weather Advisory, Winter Storm Watch, & Winter Storm Warning

Weather 101

Heavy snow at Bud Walton Arena on February 9, 2011. Image: Hannah Anderson

As winter weather moves in, the National Weather Service (NWS) may begin issuing winter weather alerts. There are over 100 types of weather alerts the NWS has at its disposal, but we will focus on just three: Winter Weather Advisory, Winter Storm Watch, & Winter Storm Warning.

Let’s start with the least severe one: winter weather advisory.

Winter Weather Advisory

According to the NWS, the criteria for a winter weather advisory in NW Arkansas & the River Valley is having a forecast for at least one of the following:

Precipitation TypeForecast Accumulation Criteria (Inches)
Freezing Rain/Drizzle (Ice)less than 0.25″
Sleetless than 0.50″
Winter Weather Advisory criteria for NW Arkansas & the River Valley. These numbers may change depending on location.

As you can see from the criteria table, winter weather advisories are issued for winter weather events with relatively light accumulations. If under a winter weather advisory, just be aware winter weather is possible and the roadways may become slippery, especially on untreated surfaces.

Example of winter weather advisories (purple) and winter storm warnings (pink) on a map. Image taken on Jan. 10, 2021.

Winter Storm Watch & Winter Storm Warning

The accumulation criteria for a winter storm watch and warning is the same for both.

Precipitation TypeForecast Accumulation Criteria (Inches)
Snow4.0″ or more within 12 hours or 6.0″ or more within 24 hours
Freezing Rain/Drizzle (Ice)0.25″ or more
Sleet0.50″ or more
Accumulation criteria for Winter Storm Watches & Winter Storm Warnings in NW Arkansas & River Valley.

The difference between a winter storm watch and winter storm warning is in the timing ahead of the storm.

Typically, a winter storm watch will be issued if winter weather is expected to begin within 24-48 hours. A winter storm warning is issued within 24-hours of the winter weather’s arrival. These ranges for timing can vary slightly depending on the forecast.

Winter storm products from the National Weather Service (NWS). Image: NOAA)

Another difference is a winter storm watch means to be prepared for possible heavy snow, ice, or sleet. Significant travel impacts are possible and travel is not recommended unless it’s necessary.

A winter storm warning means heavy snow, ice, or sleet are expected within the area. Travel conditions will likely be hazardous and unessential travel is highly discouraged.

Snow squall at West Fayetteville Walmart. Image: Jason Hudson

How Do I Get These Alerts?

There are numerous ways you can receive winter weather alerts.

  1. Follow KNWA/FOX24 and the NWA Weather Authority team meteorologists on social media.
  2. Follow your local NWS office on Facebook and/or Twitter (NWS Tulsa or NWS Little Rock for NW Arkansas & River Valley).
  3. Download the FREE NWA Weather Authority app
  4. Get the latest forecast on the KNWA (5 AM, 6 AM, 5PM, 6PM, 7PM (KXNW), & 10PM) & FOX 24 (7AM, 5:30PM, & 9PM) newscasts.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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