Snow squall warnings: Here's what's those messages mean

When the cold winds of winter blow, they can sometimes bring a quick-hitting weather hazard that can create transportation hazards.

Winter weather that impacts public safety and transportation – such as snow, sleet, ice – typically occurs between Oct. 14 and April 14, the National Weather Service says, and meteorologists' alerts before storms inform the public of any danger.

One of the hazards during this time of year is what is known as a snow squall, which forecasters can inform the public to using alerts on a phone similar to thunderstorms in the summertime.

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According to the NWS, snow squalls are often associated with strong cold fronts and are a "wintertime weather hazard."

"They move in and out quickly, and typically last less than an hour," the NWS states. "The sudden white-out conditions combined with falling temperatures produce icy roads in just a few minutes."

When snow squalls occur, they bring "localized extreme impacts" to those who may be traveling and can happen when there is no large-scale winter storm impacting a region of the country.

While they may only produce a small amount of accumulation over a 30- to 60-minute period, the intense burst of whiteout conditions can create havoc for motorists.

Pedestrians observe a snow squall in Times Square Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019, in New York.

Pedestrians observe a snow squall in Times Square Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

"Unfortunately, there is a long history of deadly traffic accidents associated with snow squalls," according to the NWS.

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Starting on Nov. 1, 2018, forecast officers from the NWS began issuing snow squall warnings for areas when certain criteria are met. The weather agency said that the warnings are focused on distinct areas, similar to tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings.

When warnings are issued, forecasters highlight specific roadways near cities that may be impacted as a snow squall moves through.

"These warnings provide critical, highly localized life-saving information," the weather service said. "If a snow squall warning is issued for your area, avoid or delay motor travel until the squall passes through your location."

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Snow squall warnings will not be issued for areas when a winter storm or blizzard warning is already in effect.

If someone ends up being in a snow squall, forecasters advise avoiding or delaying traveling on roadways until the squall passes.

"There truly is no safe place on the highway during a snow squall," the NWS states.

If you're driving and a snow squall strikes, officials recommend reducing your speed, turning on your headlights and hazard lights and allowing plenty of distance between you and the car in front of you.

"It’s also best not to slam on your brakes," the agency states. "With slick/icy roads, this could contribute to the loss of vehicle control and also increase the risk of a chain-reaction crash."