Knowing the difference between a tornado watch vs. warning is extremely important, especially for people who live in areas that are prone to this type of weather. At the very basic level, a tornado watch means that the National Weather Service has found that current conditions could cause a tornado to develop. A tornado warning means that either storm spotters have actually seen a tornado or that radar has indicated that there is a tornado happening in the warning area.
Details about a Tornado Watch vs. Warning
Because a tornado watch is so general in the information it provides, it is not uncommon for some parts of the country that are commonly known as Tornado Alley to have a tornado watch out for an entire day or two at a time. This typically happens during the peak tornado seasons of spring (March through May) and fall (especially November).
Tornado warnings tend to be more sporadic in nature, and it is essential that you stay informed by watching your local weather. Often a tornado warning is preceded by a severe thunderstorm warning, which is evident by the heavy rain, thunder, and lightning that go along with it. Tornadoes usually spawn out of a severe thunderstorm, so the NWS advises people to stay near a TV or radio that is carrying the current weather situation.
What to Do for a Tornado Watch vs. Warning
In addition to watching local weather, it is important to remind yourself of the basics of tornado safety. During a tornado watch, typically it is enough to stay watchful and simply be ready to turn on the weather if a severe thunderstorm develops. It also helps to simply stay on track with what is happening in the weather and find out if there is actually a storm on the way within the next couple of hours.
By the time a tornado warning hits, hopefully you are already watching the local weather station. The National Weather Service keeps track of all developing tornadoes and sends notification to local media outlets when radar indicates a tornado. This notification includes a precise location of where the tornado may be and the track of the storm, including when it will hit certain towns and areas.
Taking Cover During a Tornado Watch vs. Warning
Tornado safety is all about taking cover before the storm arrives, but it is important to realize that it is not yet necessary to take cover during a tornado watch. However, when a warning is issued, it is important to take cover immediately, especially if the NWS has indicated that the tornado has your town in its sights.
Here is a list of the types of cover you should be looking for in a tornado:
- Basement or other below-ground area
- Interior room of your home like a bathroom
- Stay away from windows
- Keep a NOAA weather radio handy
- If you are in a car or cannot get into a building, then take cover in a ditch or under an overpass.