NWS launching snow squall advisories

MDOT snowplow I-94
Inside a Michigan Department of Transportation snowplow on I-94 on Feb. 12, 2016.

CASCADE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — When a snow squall caused sudden whiteout conditions on I-94 between Galesburg and Climax in January 2105, it put one vehicle after another on a blind collision course.

A total of 193 vehicles were involved in the massive pileups in both the east and westbound lanes. One driver died, 22 were injured and the road was closed for two days.

Now, the National Weather Service has a plan to warn you about snow squalls. The agency will begin issuing snow squall advisories in six snow prone areas of the country, including Detroit, in January. Eventually, the rest of the country will get the advisories, including West Michigan.

Using current forecast methods and technology, the NWS has developed ways to predict the fast-hitting squalls.

“There’s an area of stuff that doesn’t look that scary on radar,” T.J. Turnage, science and operations officer for the NWS office in Grand Rapids, said as he brought up radar image of a typical snow squall. “But it’s actually significant because it’s pretty heavy snow. There’s nothing in front, so if somebody’s driving along, things seem just fine.”

As squalls hit, wind picks up, visibility drops and ice glazes the road. You have to decide if you’ll stop and risk getting hit from behind or go and risk hitting someone else.

“These can actually be some of the more impactful things we have for our area,” Turnage said of squalls.

>>NWS: What are snow squalls?

The advisories will be released to local media and posted on social media. They’ll be specific about areas effected and duration.

“This provides a way to let people know this is going to happen and be pretty specific about the timing and what can be expected by it,” Turnage said.

The NWS is rolling out a similar pilot program for sandstorms in Arizona.


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