What's the difference between a weather 'watch' and a 'warning'?
During severe weather, knowing what these terms mean could save your life.
Thursday, May 26, 2011 - 12:38
HEED THE WARNING: Stay safe during bad weather. (Photo: digitalh/Flickr)
One of the many hats I wear as the manager of a retail store is monitoring the safety of my employees and my store. With all of the bad weather we've been having, I've been able to give a lot of my newer hires a crash course in storm safety. This includes simple reminders such as where our flashlights and first aid kits are stored, and how to escort customers to our lounge, where we would gather during a tornado.
Last night we were all on high alert as a nasty storm passed through our area. As I detailed weather information to my crew, I was amazed at how well-versed everyone was on tornado prep, but that no one really knew what a flash flood warning entailed. Luckily I was able to give a good example as one of our emergency exits flooded and water gushed into the store.
A common confusion many of my teammates express is over the difference between a weather watch and a warning. These terms are used when discussing severe thunderstorms, tornadoes and flash floods. A watch alerts people to the potential for certain hazards (usually lasting six hours) and gives them ample time to come up with a game plan if the problem becomes severe. A warning (often lasting an hour or less) means that something has been spotted, whether by radar or eyesight, and allows people in the path of destruction to put that game plan in action and find safety for themselves and secure their property if needed.
While a watch is a preemptive measure, warnings are issued only when certain conditions are met.
For a severe thunderstorm, winds must hit 59 mph or the storm must produce hail 3/4 inch or larger (about the size of a penny). In general the warning should include where the storm currently is, the towns affected, and what hazards it is causing.
With tornadoes, a warning indicates that a funnel cloud has either been eyeballed by storm chasers/reporters or on the radar system. This announcement tells listeners where the tornado currently is and where it is heading. If you are in the path, this gives you that needed second to seek emergency shelter.
A flash flood warning alerts people to ground conditions, usually during or after heavy rain fall. This includes the swift flooding of streams, creeks, rivers, and urban areas. If flooding reaches the warning stage, this again means that somewhere this condition has been sited or is just around the corner.
As the storms these past few weeks have reminded us, never take these watches or warnings for granted. Have a plan of action for bad weather and don't be afraid to execute it. Your life might depend on it.
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