Forecasting winter weather: types of precipitation and alerts

While rain and snow are nothing new to Michiana, it's important to go over some winter safety reminders each year, just to refresh your memory.

We had a nice "practice run" with the snow Sunday night into Monday this week, with some areas accumulating over an inch of snow.

For Wednesday's forecast, however, we'll likely only be dealing with rain showers, instead of other wintry precipitation.

Most precipitation starts off as snow from the cold clouds. As the precipitation falls to Earth, it can pass through warm or cool air.


When the air is above freezing (32 degrees) for the precipitation's entire journey, it falls as rain. If the air is below freezing for the precipitation's entire journey, then it will fall as snowflakes.

If the precipitation goes through a switch from warm to cool air, it will fall as either sleet or freezing rain.

Freezing rain happens when the liquid water hits the frozen ground. The water freezes on contact, and we are left with an icy ground.

Sleet starts frozen, melts briefly as it falls, and then refreezes into an ice pellet. These little ice pellets may look like hail when you see them hit the ground.

Depending on what type of precipitation is in the forecast, and how much of it is expected, different types of alerts can be issued from the National Weather Service.

If a winter weather advisory is issued, that's the time where you will want to be cautious. Some sort of winter weather is expected at this stage. Reasons a winter weather advisory is issued can include the possibility of: 3-5" of snow in a 12 hour time period, blowing snow, and small ice or sleet accumulations. This means slick spots could be possible.

The next stage is a winter storm watch. If this is issued, confidence is growing that a storm could have more significant impacts.

After a watch, the final stage is a winter storm warning. If a warning is issued, take action. This means high confidence of heavy snow, sleet, or freezing rain, which will cause significant impacts.

To get ready for winter weather, be sure to have emergency supplies ready in your car. Here is a list of a few things that are important.

If you know winter weather is in the forecast, it's a good idea to fill up your gas tank before you hit the road in case of an emergency.

Remember to dress for the weather whenever you go outdoors: hat, gloves, boots, coat. Make sure to have these ready, even if you're planning to just staying in the car, again in case of an emergency.

There is a full list of ways you can be prepared for winter weather available here from the National Weather Service.

After all of your preparations, stick with the First Warning Neighborhood Weather team for any weather alerts this winter.

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