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What Weather Watches and Warnings Mean

Have you ever been watching television or listening to the radio and had an emergency weather alert interrupt your programming? Did you take any action? Unfortunately, many people ignore severe weather alerts because they aren't sure what the difference is between a "watch" and a "warning". This causes people not to take weather watches and warnings seriously. This way of thinking has the potential to lead to dangerous consequences.

So what is the difference between a weather "watch" and a weather "warning"? Read on to find out.

Severe Weather "Watch"

Weather watches mean that severe weather is likely to occur. Weather experts using data from radar and NOAA see that weather conditions are perfect for a severe thunderstorm, hurricane, tornado, flood, or snowstorm to happen, but those conditions haven't happened yet. Watches usually cover a generalized area, such as a whole county, not just a particularly city or town.

Severe Weather "Warnings"

Severe weather warnings mean that a particular weather event has actually been observed, either by an eye-witness or by radar. For example, someone may spot a funnel cloud touchdown and report it to the weather station. In this case, a tornado warning would be issued and the community immediately surrounding that area would be advised to take cover. For this reason, weather warnings tend to be more targeted.

Community Hazards

Ask about the specific hazards that threaten your community such as hurricanes, tornados, and earthquakes. Find out what the risks are from those particular hazards.

Learn about community response plans, evacuation plans, and designated emergency shelters. Ask about the emergency plans and procedures that exist in places you and your family spend time such as places of employment, schools, and child care centers. If you do not own a vehicle or drive, find out in advance what your community's plans are for evacuating those without transportation.

Community Warning Systems

Find out how local authorities will warn you of a pending disaster and how they will provide information to you during and after a disaster. Learn about NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Weather Radio and its alerting capabilities.

*This information is general and is not intended to replace or override any of the advice, warnings, or information given by local officials, FEMA, NOAA, or any other official regulatory organization or government branch regarding storm safety in the form of thunderstorms, hurricanes, tornadoes, hail storms, floods, or any other natural disaster or man-made disaster. Always follow take-cover recommendations, evacuation orders, and any other advice given by local officials for your area, regardless of whether it is similar to or different from the information on