Snow squall warnings….what is that? That’s the question that many people are going to have the first time they see an alert on their phone pop up that says “Snow Squall Warning for your area.”

First off, like most other weather phenomena, as long as you’re prepared for the weather at hand that day, you should be fine but it’s a matter of taking the time to understand the weather threats and what you should do if that threat impacts you.

Let’s Jump In
Okay, a snow squall warning. Let’s break it down.

1) Snow – we all know that snow is the frozen precipitation that falls from the sky. It’s beautiful but it can cause many headaches for travelers if you have to commute in it.

2) Squall – this one is a little bit harder to understand if you’re not a full-blown weather geek like I am. A squall is a narrow band of intense winds with reduced visibility from whatever type of precipitation is falling at the time. Think of a severe storm squall line that brings severe weather (heavy rain and winds) or a tropical storm or hurricane squall that brings strong winds and reduced visibility because of rain for a relatively short amount of time. A snow squall is similar but instead of talking about rain and wind causing the reduction invisibility, it’s the snow and wind combined that reduces visibility.

3) Warning – this one we all should know. Any type of warning you see, whether it’s a severe thunderstorm warning, avalanche warning, tornado warning or winter storm warning, means that impactful weather is about to occur imminently.

So, putting those three together, a Snow Squall Warning is defined as “an intense, but limited duration, period of moderate to heavy snowfall, accompanied by gusty surface winds resulting in reduced visibilities and whiteout conditions” (Defined by the National Weather Service -NWS).

New This Winter
The National Weather Service in Boulder/Denver will be issuing snow squall warnings for its County Warning Area (CWA – or the area that each office is responsible for forecasting for). Other offices like the NWS Cheyenne tested this last winter with success so this product is spreading in hopes of alerting the public of the imminent impact of heavy snow, dropping temperatures and gusty winds in a quicker manner. This product is going to be rolled out nationwide for National Weather Service offices that forecast in snowy regions.

What To Do If A Snow Squall Warning Is Issued For Your Area 

If a snow squall warning is issued for your area, avoid or delay travel until the squall passes through. A squall will typically move through in 30-60 minutes. If you are traveling during a snow squall and can’t exit in time, reduce your speed, turn on your headlights and hazard lights and allow plenty of distance between you and the car in front of you. It’s also best not to slam on your brakes during a snow squall since the roads will likely be icy or snow-covered. Slamming on your brakes could contribute to the loss of vehicle control and also increase the risk of a chain reaction crash.

Why Now? 
That’s a good question. Why hasn’t this been a thing before? Well, NOAA’s new GOES-16 satellite, recent improvements in Doppler radar, increased supercomputing capacity and more accurate and detailed weather models are helping NOAA forecasters more quickly identify snow squalls and other localized short-term weather events. All of the above helps forecasters and the public when treacherous weather is approaching or happening.

All in all, we live in Colorado where the weather is very fickle. If we learn about the weather and what kind of hazards come with each type of weather – we will be much more prepared and will be able to react in a positive way.

As the winter months approach, know where to get warnings, how to react to those warnings and what to do if you’re stuck outside in the elements.

Rain or shine,
I’m Andy Stein

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