WeatherWeather Science


Snow squall warning: Colorado's newest winter weather alert

what it means and how to react
Snow squall timeline 2/24/20
Posted at 4:42 PM, Jan 31, 2020

The 2019-20 winter season is the first year the National Weather Service (NWS) offices in Colorado are implementing a new Snow Squall Warning, and Monday we saw the first one issued for the Pikes Peak Region.

They're like the winter equivalent of a Severe Thunderstorm Warning, often issued for a localized area for a short duration of time.

The warning is issued when the following criteria is met:

A quick reduction in visibility caused by intense snow and wind, sudden whiteout conditions, and slick or hazardous roads.

These snow squalls often develop quickly and without much warning, as was the case Monday. Notification of the first warning came at 9:25 AM, and included Teller County And northwestern parts of El Paso County.

The National Weather Service warned of a dangerous snow squall near Lake George that was moving quickly southeast at 40 MPH, with a history of whiteout conditions and heavy snow.

The NWS even warning of potentially dangerous, life-threatening travel conditions in the snow squall.

As the storm progressed east, a new warning came out just before 10 AM. The storm was now nearing the Air Force Academy with ferocious winds and blinding snow.

The final warning was issued just before 10:30 AM, and now included the Colorado Springs Metro Area as well as northern parts of El Paso County and the Tri-Lakes.

At this point, poor visibility was noted across parts of the Springs as the snow and wind came in with force.

Finally as the storm wrapped up, the warning was allowed to expire at 11 am.

Here's a break down of what you need to know when these alerts are issued in the future.

What is a snow squall?

You should think of it as localized blizzard conditions. These warnings will be issued for quick moving, high impact snow bands. The NWS will track these individual bands like a severe thunderstorm warning or a tornado warning, due to their smaller size, speed and relatively short duration. But, if a winter storm warning or blizzard warning are already in effect, a snow squall warning will not be issued in addition.

What makes it so dangerous?

Snow squalls come on quick and they hit hard. Visibility drops below one quarter mile due to blowing snow. And due to the intensity, roads will become snow packed sooner rather than later. Travel conditions will become life-threatening.

How to take action

Greg Heavener, the Warning Coordination Meteorologist with the NWS in Pueblo, says the best course of action is to slow down and/or pull your vehicle over in these conditions. Due to the severity of these warnings, they are integrated into the Emergency Alert System. That means you will automatically get the warning to your smartphone if you have emergency alerts turned on.