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Winter Storms and Weather

Winter is the signature season of Minnesota. It's normally a long season of cold temperatures and snow and ice that can last from November through April. Winter doesn’t slow Minnesotans down. We are just as mobile, social and active during the winter as we are during the summer months. 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, is an excellent source of moisture.
  • LIFT: Lift causes moisture to rise and form clouds and precipitation.  

Fact Sheet:  How Winter Storms Form

Warnings and Alerts: Keeping Ahead of the Storm

Minnesotans should listen to a 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.  

  • 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 is available to receive weather information: NOAA Weather Radio, radio, television, and cellphone.

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. The best way to avoid any danger is to stay indoors, 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.

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: 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. 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