Behind the Forecast: Clear skies to white-out conditions in seconds

Science Behind the Forecast: Snow Squalls (2/28)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - The National Weather Service (NWS) started issuing Snow Squall Warnings on November 1st. Why? The sudden whiteout conditions and slick roads have been a source for terrible and deadly crashes. With the new warnings, the National Weather Service hopes to bring more awareness to drivers about the dangers that snow squalls create and hopefully reduce impacts.

What is a snow squall? The National Weather Service defines it as "an intense short-lived burst of heavy snowfall that leads to a quick reduction in visibility and is often accompanied by gusty winds."

While snow squalls usually occur during the day, they can happen at any time.

Snow squalls, which are usually associated with cold fronts, can travel through an area in less than an hour. Plummeting temperatures and white-out conditions can cause icy roads in minutes. Impacts can be very localized and happen when there is no big ongoing winter storm. While accumulations are usually minor, strong winds, reduced visibility, and dropping temperatures can cause dangerous driving conditions.

Duration is the primary difference between a snow squall and a snowstorm. A snow squall can drop visibility in seconds and only lasts for about 30 minutes to an hour. A snowstorm can last for hours or days.

While snow accumulations may not be significant, they occur in such a short time that, coupled with sharply falling temperatures, they can cause dangerous road conditions.

The National Weather Service issues warnings for snow squalls when and where there is a threat for quickly reducing visibility. These warnings are highly localized, like tornado warnings. The NWS advises drivers to avoid travel when a Snow Squall Warning is in place. If you’re already on the road, slow down, turn on your headlight and hazard lights, and allow plenty of space between you and the car ahead of you.

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