The winter months can be brutal in Iowa. From late-Autumn to early spring, we can expect types of weather ranging from severe cold, snow storms, ice storms, and below zero wind chill. (Or the record-breaking 59* 'heat' on Christmas Day 2019)

When things turn nasty, the National Weather Service will issue watches, warning, and advisories so we know what to expect and how to plan accordingly.

But what's the difference between watches, warnings, and advisories?

WINTER STORM WATCH means that severe winter weather may affect the area.
Snow: At least 6 inches or more in 12 hours or at least 8 inches in 24 hours
* Timing: Announced two to three days before the event
* Iowa averages around SIX Winter Storm Watches/year.

WINTER STORM WARNING indicates that severe winter weather conditions are definitely on the way or are imminent.
Snow: At least 6 inches or more in 12 hours or at least 8 inches in 24 hours
* Timing: Announced within 24 to 48 hours of the event
* The state averages around THREE winter storm warnings/year

A WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY is a weather system that is not expected to pose a significant risk to life & property, but could still impact travel or other activities
*Between 3 and 5 inches of snow in 12 hours
*When will it happen: Within 24-36 hours
*The state of Iowa average around 19 Winter Weather Advisories/year

BLIZZARD WARNING means that large amounts of falling or blowing snow and sustained winds of at least 35 miles per hour are expected for several hours, reducing visibilities to a quarter of a mile or less for at least three hours.
*Iowa averages one blizzard warning per year

WIND CHILL ADVISORY is issued when the wind chill could fall to between -20°F and -29°F with at least a 5 MPH wind.
*Iowa average nine wind chill advisories per year

WIND CHILL WARNING is issued when the Wind chill values are expected to fall to -30°F or less with at least a 5 MPH wind.
*Iowa averages around one wind chill warnings per year

FREEZING RAIN/DRIZZLE ADVISORY is issued when a significant accumulation is not expected, but could cause travel problems.
*average is around one/year in Iowa

SNOW SQUALL WARNING: They move in and out quickly, and typically last less than an hour, and cover only portions of a few counties at a time. (much like a summertime thunderstorm) The sudden white-out conditions combined with falling temperatures produce icy roads in just a few minutes.

The National Weather Service only started issuing snow squall warnings nationwide in November 2018. In December 2018, Iowa saw its first Snow Squall Warning in the eastern part of the state. In October 2020, Des Moines saw its first Snow Squall Warning.

Iowa Environmental Mesonet
Iowa Environmental Mesonet


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