National Weather Service simplifying alert system this winter

Overall, the National Weather Service has 123 different watches, warnings, and advisories -- and people are getting confused


YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The National Weather Service is consolidating its alerts to make them easier to understand.

The NWS has a watch or warning for every hazard — and there’s a lot. Overall, there are 123 different watches, warnings, and advisories.

Some of them — like dust and volcano warnings — are things we’ll never see in our area.

And that’s the problem. There are so many different alerts, people are getting confused.

This winter, you will no longer see three common alerts for Northeast Ohio:

  • Lake effect snow advisories, watches, and warnings
  • Freezing rain advisories
  • Blizzard watches and warnings

“To make the process a little bit simpler, we are just going to issue a plain old winter storm watch for the potential for lake effect snow,” said Fred McMullen, a warning coordination meteorologist with the NWS in Pittsburgh.

Come winter, there will only be three types of hazards:

  • Winter weather advisories
  • Winter storm watches
  • Winter storm warnings

Advisories mean the weather could be an inconvenience. Watches mean the storm has the potential to be significant, while warnings mean the storm could have significant impact to life or property.

The simplified alert system will be easier for meteorologists to manage but the public needs to understand what they mean.

“We have to take these watches and warnings and make sure we are detailed when we push this information out to the viewer. That way, they understand that it is a basic watch or warning but it may be more specific for their location,” said Storm Team 27 Chief Meteorologist Paul Wetzl.

McMullen said when you hear that you’re under a winter weather alert, pay attention to the details. Don’t assume it’s snow because it could be anything from ice to blowing snow to sleet.

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