What’s the Difference: Watches vs. Warnings

— Written By N.C. Cooperative Extension

Do you know the difference between a watch and a warning? 

The National Weather Service (NWS) issues watches and warnings when severe weather threatens. These alerts allow people to prepare and take the appropriate safety measures to deal with severe weather. Watches are issued by NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center, and warnings are issued by local offices of the National Weather Service.

tornado watchA watch is issued when conditions are favorable for the development of severe weather in and close to the watch area. Watches are normally issued for a duration of 4 to 8 hours and are usually well in advance of any actual severe weather. When a watch is issued for your area, you do not need to take immediate action, however, you should make sure that you are prepared in case severe weather does actually occur. You should stay tuned to local radio, television or weather radio for continuous updates and potential warnings. People living in mobile homes or working outside should think about moving to a safer area before severe weather approaches. This is also a good time to make sure that your disaster kit is stocked and ready to be used if necessary.

Extension Factsheet attach_file

A Disaster Kit for Staying at Home

This publication covers the supplies you will need at home in the event of an emergency or disaster.

When Thunder Roars, Go IndoorsA warning is issued when severe weather is actually occurring or is imminent. Warnings are normally issued for a short duration and for specific areas. A warning will include where the storm is located, what towns will be affected by the storm, and the primary threat associated with the severe weather. If a warning is issued for your area, you should take immediate steps to protect yourself. Move immediately to a sturdy building or storm shelter for severe thunderstorm warnings. Severe thunderstorms can also produce tornadoes even if a tornado warning is not issued.

In the event of a tornado warning, the safest place to be is an underground shelter or basement. If no underground shelter or safe room is available, a small, windowless interior room or hallway on the lowest level of a sturdy building is the next best thing. Mobile homes are not a safe place to be during a severe thunderstorm or tornado.

Knowing what to do in the event of a watch or warning can save your life. Pay attention to local media or NOAA weather radio if severe weather is predicted. Note that severe weather can occur at any time and the time to prepare is now.

Updated on Mar 3, 2015
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