Skip to Content

Winter weather warning information and safety tips

Winter Weather Awareness Week was November 4-8, 2019, but it’s important to have safety information available all winter long, so the Stormtracker 18 Weather Team has compiled a list of explanations of all winter weather alerts along with safety information ranging from what to keep in your car’s winter safety kit all the way to signs someone is suffering from hypothermia.

Alerts: The most confusing thing can be what the different alerts mean. General snow alerts are Winter Storm Watch, Winter Storm Warning.

They break up into three categories: watch in one and advisory/warning in the second, and the new for 2019 Snow Squall Warning .

A Winter Storm Watch is typically issued about 1 to 2 days before the start of the storm and is meant to give you a heads up so you can make contingency plans for traveling, if necessary.

All winter weather alerts are focused on travel, as that is what winter storms impact the most. Advisories and warnings are issued closer to the start of the storm, usually within 12 hours of the storm starting.

A Winter Weather Advisory tells you to expect hazardous travel conditions. Make sure to use caution on the roads and take extra time traveling.

Both a Winter Storm Warning (issued for heavy snow) and Blizzard Warning (issued for long-lasting low visibility due to falling or blowing snow) mean that dangerous travel conditions are present and you should avoid traveling and remain at home, if possible.

Unlike the other alerts mentioned that are issued for entire counties as a whole and usually a group of counties, the new Snow Squall Warning is drawn up in the same way that Severe Thunderstorm and Tornado Warnings are. They are issued for smaller areas regardless of county boundaries, and these last for p to an hour at a time. They are designed to alert you of heavier snow bursts that will dramatically reduce visibility and create hazardous driving conditions. More details on this new warning can be found here, including an interview with NWS La Crosse’s Warning Coordination Meteorologist.

Vehicle Driving in Snow Safety Kit: Having a kit in your car can not only help free your car from being stuck, but it can also save your life if you become stranded. Having things like blankets and extra gloves and hats will keep you warm if your other winter gear gets wet and will help keep you warm if your car becomes stuck and leaves you stranded for extended periods of time. A small shovel and cat litter can help free your car so you can get back on the road, and candy or other non-perishable food items can keep you fed or replenish your system after working to get unstuck.

Here’s a few extra things to keep in mind if you get stuck in cold temperatures and need to spend the night or a significant amount of time in your cold car. Keeping your gas tank at least half full will ensure you have enough fuel to run the engine to keep car heated up. If you do that, make sure the exhaust pipe is cleared from snow or other debris so carbon monoxide doesn’t build up inside car.

Extreme cold safety: In cold temperatures, especially when temperature or wind chill dips below zero, frostbite and hypothermia can quickly set in. Frostbite needs to be addressed by slowly warming the affected area and visiting a doctor while hypothermia is a medical emergency. If you witness someone in very cold weather with the symptoms above, call 9-1-1. Wet clothing can accelerate the loss of body heat, so it’s important to wear layers of dry clothing. Limit time outdoors in extreme cold temperatures and cover as much as you can if you have to go out.

Safety with snow removal: Many injuries and deaths occur in the snow removal process as that wet snow can become very heavy and makes shoveling very hard work. Know your physical limits and don’t be afraid to take breaks. For kids, make sure they don’t play or build snow forts too close to the road. Plow drivers can’t see them there and could push heavy chunks of packed snow and ice onto them. Also, snow drifts block visibility at bottom of driveways and street corners. Be very careful walking or driving and be aware of these issues. When using the snow blower, never stick hand or fingers into the auger area even when engine is shut off. There can be stored energy in the mechanism that can spin the auger long after it’s shut off. Always use shovel or stick to reach in. To prevent snow from sticking to the auger or chute, try spraying it with WD-40 or non-stick cooking spray.

How the forecast process works:  Winter storms can be notoriously difficult to track and get the details right. The forecast process involves tracking where the storm path will be, then how strong it is. This involves looking at how much liquid would fall if it would be rain, and then turning that into a snow forecast. The steps are laid out in the graphic above, but one of the biggest challenges is the fact that the snow ratio means that a difference in just one tenth of an inch of liquid can be the difference of a full inch in terms of snow, and that’s just at ten to one ratio. In addition, snow rarely forms uniformly across the storm. So a key to snow total forecasting is figuring out where and for how long bursts of snow will set up.

Important Links:

For the latest interactive radar, click HERE.

To download the WQOW Stormtracker 18 Weather App, click HERE.

For the latest school and organization closings, click HERE.

For the latest road conditions and DOT camera views, click HERE.

Matt Schaefer

Matt Schaefer was promoted to Chief Meteorologist in July of 2019 and has been our evening meteorologist for News 18 since June of 2016. Prior to that, he was our Saturday meteorologist starting in September 2014.

Matt was born and raised in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. He enjoys all the extremes that mother nature throws at the Badger State: from severe thunderstorms to blizzards to subzero temperatures.

Matt studied meteorology in the Midwest as well, earning his Bachelor’s of Science in Meteorology at Valparaiso University in Indiana. There, Matt was heavily involved in VUTV Weather, the Valpo student chapter of AMS/NWA, and VUSIT (Valparaiso University Storm Intercept Team). He’s logged more than 20,000 miles chasing and studying severe storms all across the country and witnessed nine tornadoes including six in one day!

Matt describes himself as a Wisconsin boy at heart and enjoys cheering for the Packers, Brewers, Badgers, and Admirals just to name a few. He loves simply being outdoors and enjoys the Wisconsin wilderness especially in fall, and whitetail deer season!

Skip to content