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Explainer: Differences between weather watches and warnings

Published: Feb. 2, 2021 at 9:06 PM EST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - There are many weather advisories that local National Weather Service Forecast Offices issue for adverse weather. In the Big Bend and South Georgia, there are many hazards that are experienced such as flooding, severe thunderstorms, tropical weather, and tornadoes. But there are so many, that some may be confused or overwhelmed.

There is one way to break it all down, and a good place to start is explaining what the difference is between a watch and a warning.

A WATCH means conditions are favorable for a hazard to occur or, simply put, stuff may happen. There would be a better chance than normal to see a specific event, and it’s important to keep an eye out for changing weather.

A WARNING takes it up a notch. That means a hazard is imminent - whether it was observed or doppler radar has indicated it - and people within that warning need to take action, and the action depends on what type of hazard the warning was issued for.

An example of a warning is a tornado warning, which means a tornado has been spotted or indicated on radar. Radar indication could be rotation detected on radar, which can be a precursor to a tornado (or even showing one already happening). The newer dual-polarization setups on National Weather Service radars allows for meteorologists at their offices to also detect for debris in the air, signaling a tornado already on the ground. Those in a tornado warning should seek shelter indoors in the lowest floor away from outside walls. Escaping tornadoes in a car or staying in a manufactured home is not suggested as these can easily be picked up and tossed by a twister.

If a watch or warning is issued, it’s important not to panic. Having a plan on what to do when warnings are issued ahead of time will make one feel more in control and calmer, and ensure that everyone is safe from any weather hazard.

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