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Understanding Tornado and Hurricane Watches and Warnings

Updated on August 8, 2011

Tornadoes and hurricanes are two of Mother Nature’s most feared furies. Damages caused by their excessive rain, wind, hail, and lightning can take weeks and even months for recovery. And at its most extreme, physical damages along with psychological damages can take years for recovery. Therefore it is extremely important to understand the terminology and warnings issued from a local or National Weather Service.


Tornadoes are violent, dangerous rotating columns of air that is in contact with both a storm cloud and the surface of the earth at the same time. The peak season for tornadoes is March through May for southern states and throughout the summer and sometimes extended into fall for northern states.

Tornado Watch vs. Tornado Warning

A tornado watch is issued by the National Weather Service when conditions are favorable for the development of tornadoes in and close to the watch area.

A tornado warning is issued by the National Weather Service when a tornado is indicated by radar or sighted by spotted and individuals in the affected area should seek safe shelter immediately.

The Enhanced Fujita Scale

The Enhanced Fujita Scale measure the magnitude of the tornado’s severity:

EF0: Minimal damage with wind speeds of 65 -85 miles per hour

EF1: Moderate damage with wind speeds of 86-110 miles per hour

EF2: Significant damage with wind speeds of 111-135 miles per hour

EF3: Sever damage with wind speeds of 136-165 miles per hour

EF4: Devastating damage with wind speeds of 166-200 miles per hour

EF5: Incredible damage with wind speeds greater than 200 miles per hour

The deadly tornado that tore apart the town of Joplin, Missouri was categorized as an EF5.


A hurricane is a tropical cyclone with sustained winds of 74 miles per hour or greater. A tropical cyclone goes through different levels before being categorized as a hurricane: tropical depression (up to 35 miles per hour), tropical storm (39 to 73 miles per hour), and then a hurricane (74 miles per hour and greater). Hurricane season runs from June 1st through November 30th for the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean areas.

Hurricane Watch vs. Hurricane Warning

A hurricane watch is issued within forty-eight hours when hurricane conditions are possible within the specified area.

A hurricane warning is issue within thirty-six hours when hurricane conditions are expected within the specified area.

Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale

The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale measure the magnitude of the hurricane’s severity:

Category 1: Minimal damage with sustained winds of 74-95 miles per hour

Category 2: Moderate damage with sustained winds of 96-110 miles per hour

Category 3: Extensive damage with sustained winds of 11-130 miles per hour

Category 4: Extreme damage with sustained winds of 131-155 miles per hour

Category 5: Catastrophic damage with sustained winds greater than 155 miles per hour

Louisiana had the misfortunate of experiencing Hurricane Katrina which was a Category 5.


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