Guide to Severe Weather Warnings and Watches

May 25, 2013

A watch is issued when weather or atmospheric conditions are conducive for a severe weather event to develop. A trick to remember what a watch means is to think you’re watching out for something. Watches are important but not as urgent as warnings. A good time to review your severe weather safety plan for home or business is when a watch is first issued.

A warning is issued to inform you of an imminent weather hazard. The National Weather Service issues warnings when radar has detected severe weather or eyewitnesses report seeing a tornado, severe thunderstorm, flash flood, etc. The emergency preparedness action you take depends on the type of warning issued.  A warning means you are in immediate danger and should seek shelter or take appropriate action right away. This is definitely not the time to gather supplies for an emergency preparedness kit or you may not have time to make it to safety.

News, media and weather alert radios commonly broadcast the following types of watches and warnings:

Tornado Watch: Weather conditions are favorable for tornadoes to develop in the watch area. They can be in effect for several hours and expanded or cancelled if the threat increases or diminishes.

Tornado Warning:Doppler radar has indicated strong rotation capable of producing a tornado at any moment, or trained spotters have reported a funnel cloud or tornado. Weather alert radios will broadcast where the tornado is located and the areas in its path. Take cover immediately. Keep your weather alert radio with you to receive updated information.

Severe Thunderstorm Watch:Weather conditions exist where severe thunderstorms can easily develop. Like tornadoes, severe thunderstorm watches can be in effect for several hours and expanded or cancelled as conditions change.

Severe Thunderstorm Warning:A thunderstorm is producing large hail 1”or larger in diameter and/or wind speeds in excess of 58 mph. Weather alert radios sound a severe thunderstorm warning that includes where the storm is located, where it’s heading and which threats have been reported such as hail or high winds.

Flash Flood Watch:Flash flooding is possible, even if severe weather isn’t occurring in your immediate area. Flash flood emergency preparedness takes being ready to act fast should the watch become a warning.

Flash Flood Warning:Indicates flash flooding of rivers, streams, creaks, or urban areas is imminent or already occurring. Move immediately to higher ground out of the flash flood’s path.

Tropical Storm Watch: A tropical storm has the potential to impact the area. Watches are issued as early as possible to allow enough time for emergency preparedness for both tropical storms and hurricanes.

Tropical Storm Warning: Indicates that a tropical storm is expected within the next 36 hours. Emergency preparedness should be complete by the time a warning takes effect and you should take shelter immediately.

Hurricane Watch: A hurricane has the potential to impact the area. This may include an already-formed hurricane or a tropical storm expected to strengthen into a hurricane.  Gather emergency supplies and be prepared to act quickly or evacuate should it become a warning.

Hurricane Warning: A hurricane is expected to impact the area. Warnings are issued up to 3 days in advance to allow enough time for emergency preparedness. Immediately leave the area or take shelter as directed by local authorities.

During both severe weather watches and warnings, it’s important to have your weather alert radio handy to receive updates. A model with battery back up is recommended since severe storms can knock out power.

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