The above photo may seem funny but it could help you understand the difference when you get a watch or warning notification. Knowing the difference between the two can prepare individuals for the necessary steps to take when considering the threat of severe weather. Watches and warnings issued to the public are based on different criteria.
Bottom line: A Watch is bad weather could be in the area, (the witch is there but not as a witch yet). A Warning is bad weather is in the area, (the witch is in the area).
While the peak occurrences for severe weather events in the United States happen between March and October, severe weather can occur at any time. In order to save lives, branches of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will issue public watches and warnings.
“A watch is issued when conditions are favorable, for example, either for a severe thunderstorm or tornadoes,” AccuWeather.com Senior Meteorologist Dan Kottlowski said. “It doesn’t mean severe weather is imminent.”
“Typical watches cover about 25,000 square miles, or about half the size of Iowa,” according to the SPC.
Kottlowski said there are no set criteria for issuing watches, but if the conditions seem consistent with a developing severe weather pattern, watches can be changed and altered by monitoring ongoing developments.
“It can vary,” he said. “There is not just one set of ingredients; every watch may have a different set of [parameters] from one day to the next since it is based on a synoptic situation that may change within several hours.”
Warnings mean that severe weather is imminent and is based on specific criteria and existing reports received by the NWS.
The criteria include hail that totals more than 1 inch in diameter and wind speeds of 55 mph.
“Lightning is not a criteria for a severe thunderstorm warning,” Kottlowski said. “Heavy rain is not either.”
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What to Report to Us:
ANY tornado, funnel, or waterspout
Heavy rain at a rate of an inch per hour or more lasting more than 15 minutes
ANY type of flooding that is threatening or causing damage
High winds strong enough to cause property damage
ANY weather related death, injury, or significant damage