Facility Dude

Learn the difference between a winter watch and a winter warning

By Kate Donnelly
Nov 16, 2015

Facilities Management, Safety and Risk Management

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Learn the difference between a winter watch and a winter warning Do you and your staff know what to do in the event severe winter weather? Hopefully you already have a plan in place - but what form does it take? Is your plan in a dusty old binder with photocopied pages? Was it told to staff during their training? When it comes to being prepared, it's often not enough to rely on training that might have happened months previously and hasn't been used since. A mobile safety solution is the ideal way to keep your property and your staff safe during dangerous weather.

And yet, before you use a mobile safety solution to push out notifications to your staff out in the field, you need to know what to tell them. What are the differences between a winter watch and a winter warning, for instance? Do you know how to respond to each situation?

Winter watch

According to the National Weather Service, a winter watch means it's time to prepare for severe weather. There are three main types of watches: the blizzard watch, the lake effect snow watch and the wind chill watch.

  • Blizzard watch. These kinds of watches are issued when winds and snow could create a white out situation. If you have crews out in the field, they should get somewhere safe - there's no point in risking the safety of people and equipment during a storm that will only last a day. If there's a chance of getting snowed in or stuck in the facility, This Old House magazine recommends having a backup generator or hand-crank flashlights in case the power fails.
  • Lake effect snow watch. Lake effect snow occurs when cold winds blow across warm water. According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, wet air moves off the lake with the wind, cools, and creates snowfall. When a watch is issued, it means that conditions for lake effect snow are possible.
  • Wind chill watch. According to Scientific American magazine, wind chill is a mathematically calculated number that represents how could your skin feels rather than how cold it actually is. A watch indicated that air temperature and wind speed are likely to create a dangerously cold situation.

Winter warnings

There are five different kinds of winter warnings: blizzard warnings, winter storm warnings, wind chill warnings, ice storm warnings and lake effect snow warnings. When a warning is issued it means it's time to take action.

  • Blizzard warning. These are issued when wind speeds above 35 mph are combined with falling snow. Typically, visibility is greatly reduced and it's dangerous to drive on the roads. If crews are out in a blizzard, they should carry survival gear.
  • Winter storm warning. This is a milder version of the blizzard warning. The National Weather Service still recommends avoiding travel during these warnings.
  • Wind chill warning. When there's a threat of hypothermia or frostbite, this warning is issued. Here's an example of how wind chill works: If the air temperature is 19 degrees below zero and the wind is blowing at 15 mph, the temperature will feel like 44 degrees below zero. At those levels, skin can develop frostbite in as little as 30 minutes.
  • Ice storm warning. This means that over a quarter of an inch of ice has already formed. Driving in this condition is extremely dangerous.
  • Lake effect snow warning. Look out for this warning because it means that a significant amount of snow could fall very quickly. If a crew is an area under a lake effect snow warning, they should get out or bunker down until conditions improve.
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