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So what's the difference between a weather watch and a warning?

Posted Sept. 17, 2019

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Many people question what it means when the National Weather Service issues a watch or a warning. Knowing the difference is important, especially when it’s a tornado or flash flood warning.

Here’s a quick way to tell the difference:

  • A watch means conditions are favorable for severe weather to develop in or near the watch area. The watch area, when shown on a map, will usually cover several counties or large portions of the region. Residents should translate this as: “Good chance we’ll get some weather.” Stay alert and keep your eyes and ears open as the weather may be changing soon.
  • A warning means a dangerous weather event is occurring or will shortly occur at or very near a specific location. The warning area, when shown on a map, is normally much smaller, such as the size of a town, city or single county. Residents should translate this as: “If you’re in that location, take cover right now!”

The National Weather Service will issue a weather watch or warning for tornados, severe thunderstorms, flash floods and excessive temperatures. Stay a step ahead of the storms by purchasing a NOAA All-Hazards Weather Radio to receive watch and warning information directly from the National Weather Service.

The bottom line on watches and warning:

  • In a watch, keep your eyes open and watch for changing weather conditions.
  • In a warning, find sturdy shelter immediately if you are in the warning area.

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