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Winter Storms and Weather

Winter is the signature season of Minnesota. Its normally a long season of cold temperatures and snow and ice that can last from November through April. Yet winter doesn’t slow Minnesotans down – in fact Minnesotans are just as mobile, social and active during winter as they are during the summer months – both indoors and especially outdoors. But in order to ensure a safe and enjoyable winter, it is critical to be informed and aware of the potential risks and hazards associated with winter weather and how to avoid them.

The topics below describe some of the more common features of winter weather, including warnings and alerts and resources for more information.

Winter Storms: How Winter Storms Form

There are many ways for winter storms to form; however, all have three key components.

  • COLD AIR: For snow and ice to form, the temperature must be below freezing in the clouds and near the ground.
  • MOISTURE: Water evaporating from bodies of water, such as a large lake or the ocean, is an excellent source of moisture.
  • LIFT: Lift causes moisture to rise and form clouds and precipitation. An example of lift is warm air colliding with cold air and being forced to rise. Another example of lift is air flowing up a mountain side.

Fact Sheet:  How Winter Storms Form

Warnings and Alerts: Keeping Ahead of the Storm

By listening to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio and television for the latest winter storm
warnings, watches and advisories. The National Weather Service issues outlooks, watches, warnings and advisories for all winter weather hazards. Here’s what they mean and what to do. Use the information below to make an informed decision on your risk and what actions should be taken. Remember to listen to your local officials’ recommendations and to NOAA Weather Radio for the latest winter storm information.

  • OUTLOOK:  Winter storm conditions are possible in the next 2-5 days. Stay tuned to local media for updates.

  • WATCH:  Winter storm conditions are possible within the next 36-48 hours. Prepare now!

  • WARNING:  Life-threatening severe winter conditions have begun or will begin within 24 hours. Act now!

  • ADVISORY:  Winter weather conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous. If you are cautious, these situations should not be life threatening. Electronic equipment available to receive weather information/NOAA (Weather Radio, Radio, TV, Pager, Cell Phone, Two-Way Radio)

Fact Sheet:  NWS- Winter Weather Terms

Extreme cold

coldtemp.JPGAt some point every winter, temperatures in Minnesota drop below zero. Adding even a small wind can drive the wind chill effect down to dangerous levels for anyone exposed to it for very long. Naturally, the best way to avoid any danger is to stay indoors in a well heated environment for as much as possible. But if you do feel the need to venture outdoors, make sure to take proper precautions, and know how to spot the signs of frostbite and hypothermia - both for yourself and others – especially children,  elderly or other people at risk.

Fact Sheet:  Winter Storms: Cold

Fact Sheet:  Wind chill

Downloadable Chart:  NWS Wind Chill Chart

Heavy Snow and Ice

Heavy snow can immobilize a region and paralyze a city, stranding commuters, closing airports, stopping the flow of supplies, and disrupting emergency and medical services. Accumulations of snow can cause roofs to collapse and knock down trees and power lines. Homes and farms may be isolated for days and unprotected livestock may be lost. In the mountains, heavy snow can lead to avalanches. The cost of snow removal, repairing damages, and the loss of business can have severe economic impacts on cities and towns.

 Fact Sheet: Heavy Snow and ice