Emergency Management Agency Masthead Image

1220 W College St, Murfreesboro, TN 37129 • Phone: (615) 898-7764 • Fax:( 615) 898-7840

Winter Weather Definitions

Blizzard:
Winds of 35 mph or more along with considerable falling and/or blowing snow reducing visibility to less than one-quarter mile for three or more hours. Extremely cold temperatures often are associated with dangerous blizzard conditions, but are not a formal part of the definition. The hazard created by the combination of snow, wind and low visibility significantly increases, however, with temperatures below 20 degrees.
Blowing snow:
Wind driven snow that reduces visibility to six miles or less causing significant drifting. Blowing snow may be snow that is falling and/or loose snow on the ground picked up by the wind.
Drifting snow:
Uneven distribution of snowfall caused by strong surface winds. Drifting snow does not reduce visibility.
Flurries:
Light snow falling for short durations. No accumulation or just a light dusting is all that is expected.
Freeze:
Occurs when the surface air temperature is expected to be 32 degrees Fahrenheit or below over a widespread area for a significant period of time.
Freezing rain or drizzle:
Occurs when rain or drizzle freezes on surfaces such as trees, cars and roads, forming a coating or glaze of ice. Temperatures above the ground are warm enough for rain to form, but surface temperatures are below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, causing the rain to freeze on impact. Even small accumulations of ice can be a significant hazard.
Frost:
Describes the formation of thin ice crystals on the ground or other surfaces. Frost develops when the temperature of the earth's surface falls below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, but because frost is primarily an event that occurs as the result of radiational cooling, it frequently occurs with air temperatures in the middle 30s.
Graupel:
Small pellets of ice created when super-cooled water droplets coat, or rime, a snowflake. The pellets are cloudy or white, not clear like sleet, and often are mistaken for hail.
Heavy snow:
Depending on the region of the USA, this generally means that four or more inches of snow has accumulated in 12 hours, or six or more inches of snow in 24 hours.
Ice storm:
An ice storm is used to describe occasions when damaging accumulation of ice are expected during a freezing rain situation. Significant accumulations of ice are defined as one-quarter inch or greater. This can cause trees, utility and power lines to fall down causing the loss of power and communication.
Sleet:
Rain drops that freeze into ice pellets before reaching the ground. Sleet usually bounces when hitting a surface and does not stick to objects. However, it can accumulate like snow and cause a hazard to motorists. Heavy sleet occurs when a half of an inch of sleet accumulates.
Snow showers:
Snow falling at varying intensities for brief periods of time. Some accumulation is possible.
Snow squalls:
Intense, but of limited duration, periods of moderate to heavy snowfall, accompanied by strong, gusty surface winds and possible lightning.
Watch:
A watch is used when the risk of a hazardous weather event has increased significantly, but the occurrence, location and timing are still uncertain.
Warning/Advisory:
These products are issued when a hazardous weather event is occurring, is imminent or has a very high probability of occurrence. A warning is used for conditions posing a threat to life or property. Advisories are for less serious conditions that cause significant inconvenience and, if caution is not exercised, could lead to situations that may threaten life and property.
Whiteout:
A condition caused by falling and/or blowing snow that reduces visibility to nothing or zero miles; typically only a few feet. Whiteouts can occur rapidly often blinding motorists and creating chain-reaction crashes involving multiple vehicles. Whiteouts are most frequent during blizzards.
Wind chill:
The wind chill is based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin caused by the combined effects of wind and cold. As the wind increases, heat is carried away from the body at an accelerated rate, driving down the body temperature. This temperature is the reading the body "feels" given the combination of wind and air temperature. At wind speeds of four mph or less, the wind chill temperature is the same as the actual air temperature.

Wind chill chart

Links












Rutherford County Seal