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Tornado Watch vs. Tornado Warning-When it comes to severe weather events like tornadoes, staying informed and understanding the terminologies used by meteorologists is crucial for personal safety and preparedness. Two commonly used terms during tornado outbreaks are “tornado watch” and “tornado warning.” In this article, we will provide you with a clear understanding of the difference between these two terms and guide you on how to respond in each situation.

Tornado Watch: Be Prepared

A tornado watch is issued by the National Weather Service (NWS) when atmospheric conditions are favorable for the formation of tornadoes within a designated area. It serves as an alert that you should stay vigilant and be prepared for the possibility of tornadoes in your area.

A live data feed from the National Weather Service containing official weather warnings, watches, and advisory statements for the United States.



This feature depicts the National Weather Service (NWS) watches, warnings, and advisories within the United States. Watches and warnings are classified into well over 100 categories. See event descriptions for full details.

  • A warning is issued when a hazardous weather or hydrologic event is occurring, imminent or likely. A warning means weather conditions pose a threat to life or property. People in the path of the storm need to take protective action.
  • A watch is used when the risk of a hazardous weather or hydrologic event has increased significantly, but its occurrence, location or timing is still uncertain. It is intended to provide enough lead time so those who need to set their plans in motion can do so. A watch means that hazardous weather is possible. People should have a plan of action in case a storm threatens, and they should listen for later information and possible warnings especially when planning travel or outdoor activities.
  • An advisory is issued when a hazardous weather or hydrologic event is occurring, imminent or likely. Advisories are for less serious conditions than warnings, that cause significant inconvenience and if caution is not exercised, could lead to situations that may threaten life or property.

What to do during a tornado warning:

  • Stay informed. Monitor local weather reports, listen to the radio, or use reliable weather apps to stay updated on the latest developments and forecasts.
  • Gather emergency supplies. Prepare an emergency kit containing essential items such as a first aid kit, non-perishable food, water, a flashlight, extra batteries, and a portable weather radio.
  • Secure your property. Bring outdoor furniture and loose objects indoors to prevent them from becoming projectiles during high winds.
  • Review your emergency plan: Familiarize yourself with the safest locations within your home, such as basements, storm shelters, or windowless interior rooms.
  •  Stay tuned: Keep your mobile devices charged and nearby, and ensure they are set to receive emergency alerts and notifications.

Remember, a tornado watch indicates that tornadoes are possible, but it does not guarantee their occurrence. However, being proactive and prepared can make a significant difference in your safety during severe weather events.


Tornado Warning: Take Immediate Action

A tornado warning, on the other hand, is a more urgent alert issued by the NWS when a tornado has been sighted or detected by radar in a specific area. When a tornado warning is issued for your location, it means that a tornado has been confirmed and that you should take immediate action to protect yourself and your loved ones.


According to NOAA – Severe weather warnings for tornadoes: Storm based lead time

Tornado Warnings are issued to enable the public to get out of harm’s way and mitigate preventable loss. NWS forecasters issue approximately 2,900 Tornado Warnings per year, primarily between the Rockies and Appalachian Mountains. Tornado Warning statistics are based on a comparison of warnings issued and weather spotter observations of tornadoes and/or storm damage surveys from Weather Forecast Offices in the United States. 

Lead Time (LT) for a Tornado Warning is the difference between the time the warning was issued and the time the tornado occurred (based on certified reports) in minutes, assuming the tornado tracked within the bounds of the warned area. Lead Times for all tornado occurrences within the U.S. are averaged to get this statistic for a given fiscal year. 

Weather Warning Graph

What to do during a tornado warning:

  • Seek shelter immediately: Move to a safe location in your home, preferably a basement, storm cellar, or an interior room on the lowest level without windows. If you live in an apartment or high-rise building, seek shelter in a small, windowless interior hallway.
  • .Stay away from windows: Protect yourself from flying debris and broken glass by staying away from windows. Cover yourself with a mattress, heavy blankets, or a sturdy piece of furniture for added protection.
  • Use a helmet: If available, wearing a helmet can provide additional protection against head injuries caused by flying debris.
  • Follow local emergency instructions: Listen to emergency broadcasts, follow the guidance of local authorities, and be prepared to evacuate if instructed to do so.
  • Stay in your safe location: Wait for the official “all-clear” announcement from authorities before leaving your safe location, as tornadoes can often occur in multiple waves.


In summary, understanding the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning is vital for your safety during severe weather events. A tornado watch signifies that conditions are favorable for tornado formation and calls for preparedness, while a tornado warning indicates that a tornado has been sighted or detected, demanding immediate action to protect yourself and others.

Always prioritize your safety and follow the instructions and recommendations of local authorities and meteorologists. By staying informed, being prepared, and responding appropriately during tornado watches and warnings, you can enhance your safety and minimize the risks associated with these dangerous weather phenomena.

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