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Difference Between a Tornado Watch and a Tornado Warning

Updated on March 25, 2015
LindaSarhan profile image

L. Sarhan has been a storm spotter with the National Weather Service (NWS) for over 10 years.

Knowing the difference between a tornado watch and tornado warning will help you be better prepared in the event that a tornado should actually occur. Being prepared is crucial during this time. Do not take the issued watches and warnings lightly, because it is in place as an early warning system that could make the difference between life and death.

Tornado Watch

When a tornado watch is issued for your area, it means that conditions for a tornado to develop are favorable. At this point, you should be making preparations in case it is upgraded to a warning. First, tune into your local radio or television stations to stay informed about changes in the impending storm. You can spend the time to review your emergency plan just in case the watch is upgraded. Also make sure your tornado disaster kit is handy.

Staying alert is a big priority at this point. If you are outside, keep an eye out for dark green or orange tinted clouds. These clouds have been also known for producing hail. Also keep an eye on the clouds. If you see large, dark, low-lying clouds which rotate and appear funnel shape, take cover. Especially take cover if it produces a roar similar to a freight train.

Tornado Warning

A tornado warning is normally issued if someone has visual confirmation of a tornado spotted. A warning is also issued if radar indicates even the possibility of a tornado. At this point, you should take shelter immediately. Go to your storm shelter or the lowest level of your home, preferably a basement or cellar. If you don't have this available to you, try to go to an interior room with no windows such as a bathroom or closet. If you are in a mobile home or vehicle, immediately go to a sturdy building if possible. If you are outside, find a ditch or ravine and lay down flat with your hands over your head.

Predicting a tornado isn't as clear cut as you might think, but with the technology we have today we have a better warning system than a few decades ago. If in the event that either of these are issued, it is advisable to follow the tornado safety guidelines set down by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Some of these guidelines include avoiding windows, going to the most interior room on the lowest level, and covering yourself with a mattress or pillows. These guidelines are in place for a reason. For a complete list of guidelines please visit NOAA's website. Remember, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

© 2015 L Sarhan


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