DISCUSSION: It is important for the National Weather Service to issue weather-related warnings to the public for their safety. A new type of snow warning called a “snow squall warning” can be issued, as of January 3rd, 2018, by the National Weather Service. A snow squall is a sudden, short period of heavy snowfall accompanied by strong winds and occasionally lightning. During this time, snow accumulation may be substantial.
Snowstorms and snow squalls are much different. A snowstorm can be predicted days in advance. They are typically larger in scale and affect more area than snow squalls. Also, the likelihood of an accumulation is always greater with snowstorms than with snow squalls. Although accumulation is less with a snow squall, the sudden reduced visibility from sudden heavy snowfall causes danger to travelers. Snow accumulation is typically around 1 to 2 inches of snow with visibility that can be less than one quarter of a mile and is expected to last less than an hour.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the new warning can be issued in the following NWS offices: Buffalo, NY; Detroit, MI; Cheyenne, WY; Pittsburg, PA; State College, PA; Binghamton, NY; and Burlington, VT. These warnings are first sent from the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System (AWIPS) to the National Weather Service (NWS) as a code. For example, “SQWBUF” is the Buffalo, NY snow squall warning code. If the weather forecast office in Buffalo, NY was to receive that code, the NWS would then issue a snow squall warning to the public for that area. The NWS has given advice if a snow squall warning is issued in your area:
1. Consider avoiding or delaying travel until the snow squall passes your location.
2. If you must travel, use extra caution and allow for extra time.
3. Rapid changes in visibility and slick road conditions may lead to accidents.
It is crucial that the public is notified as soon as possible. According to The Weather Channel, research indicates many highway pileups are attributed to snow squalls each winter season. For example, on March 20, 2017, there was a 30-car pileup on Interstate 81 in Schuylkill County, PA that killed one person. Similarly, there was a 50-car pileup on February 13, 2016, in Lebanon County, PA that killed three people. These are just a couple examples of some of the highway accidents associated with snow squalls. They create low visibility and slippery road conditions that cause tires to lose traction on the road. Most of the time, snow squalls create minor snow accumulations as opposed to greater totals dropped by snowstorms.
NOAA states that they can now better predict short-term weather events with the new GOES-16 satellite as well as, recent improvements in Doppler-radar, and more accurate and detailed weather models. Some of the short-term weather events which can now be detected quickly include snow squalls, thunderstorms, and tornadoes. With this new technology, the NWS can alert the public in a timely manner and reduce snow squall related accidents. (Credit: NOAA, The Weather Channel)
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©2018 Weather Forecaster Brittany Connelly