NOAA Helps You Prepare for Winter Weather

Winter scene.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

A heavy snowfall or icing event can endanger lives and paralyze a city — closing roads and airports, stranding commuters, disrupting power and the flow of commerce. It can cost billions in lost business productivity and retail sales revenue as workers and consumers are forced to stay home.

We can’t prevent snow and ice, but NOAA’s localized winter weather forecasts and information can help you make more informed decisions and better prepare for nature’s most chilling events. 

NOAA’s Winter Weather Products

NOAA’s National Weather Service produces a variety of winter weather products (i.e., winter storm outlooks, advisories, watches and warnings) to provide storm information to the public, government officials, emergency personnel and businesses. With advance warning, communities and businesses can effectively prepare for winter’s worst while minimizing lost productivity and protecting lives.

One of the best ways to get the latest weather information is either through NOAA’s National Weather Service Web page or NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards, which sounds an alarm to alert you about hazardous weather and other emergencies even when other means of communication are disabled. The radio runs off a special network of radio stations broadcasting continuous weather information directly from the nearest National Weather Service office 24 hours a day, every day. NOAA also sends their winter advisories and warnings directly to the media so television meteorologists and radio newscasters get you the information quickly in a variety of ways.

Heavy snow.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale

Severe winter weather can be particularly devastating to the heavily populated and industrialized areas of the Northeast. To help estimate the social and economic effects of snow storms in this area, NOAA uses the Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale that has five categories (1 - notable, 2 - significant, 3 - major, 4 - crippling, or 5 - extreme) to rate the severity of a storm. The rating is based on the snowfall amount and the population of the affected areas as compared to previous winter storms. 

As a result, storms that drop heavier snow amounts over larger, more populated areas score higher on the scale than those that drop less snow over a smaller, less populated area. For instance, 30 inches of snow over the Appalachian Mountains would have a lower rating than the same amount over the Washington-Boston corridor. Over the last century, only two storms ranked "extreme," or Category 5, on the scale — the March 1993 "Superstorm" and the January "Blizzard of 1996," both of which caused more than $500 million in damages.

The scale was designed to assess the effect of a storm after it is over, the way the Enhanced Fujita scale is used to rate tornadoes. Someday, with further research and improvements in snowfall forecasts, it might be possible to expand its geographic scope and develop the snowfall scale to use as a warning tool the way the Saffir-Simpson scale is used with hurricanes.

NOAA’s Winter Weather Information Can Save Millions

One of the best examples of how NOAA has helped minimize the economic effects of winter weather is in the transportation sector. Airports often rely on NOAA’s data and warnings to make better decisions regarding safe air travel. One report estimates that the potential benefits from better snow and ice forecasting at U.S. airports, exceeds $600 million a year (Adams et al., 2004).
NOAA is constantly working to improve its forecasts. In the future, improved temperature predictions could increase the accuracy of snow, ice and freezing rain forecasts, which may help save businesses money.

NOAA’s forecast improvements also could provide these benefits:

The next time a major snow or ice storm is forecast for your area, remember that NOAA can help you prepare for it, maybe saving you money or your life. NOAA logo.