A Watch Or A Warning: Which Is Worse and Why?

a watch or warning

During severe weather, weather alerts can be beneficial.

But what if you don’t know which alert means what?

Confusing one weather alert with another can prove extremely problematic, especially if you live in a storm-prone area.

Many people in our society don’t know the difference between a Watch and a Warning.

But is it too difficult to discern one from another? Certainly not.

A watch means that there is a possibility of a severe tornado or thunderstorm developing in your area.

On the other hand, a warning demands immediate action and indicates that a severe thunderstorm or tornado is imminent in your area.

There are 4 types of weather alerts. Let’s break down each of them:

Severe Thunderstorm Watch

The Storm Prediction Center issued the severe thunderstorm watches only when the weather conditions are conducive to severe thunderstorms.

This does not mean that severe weather is certain to occur. Rather it indicates that the weather conditions have created a situation where severe weather is a possibility.

If a severe thunderstorm watch is issued, you are not required to take immediate action.

However, if you are outdoors, you should make an emergency plan to get directions to the nearest shelter.

Keep in mind that a hailstorm can shatter your car’s windshields and side windows and leave you injured in the process.

The Tornado Watch

A tornado watch is issued when the atmospheric conditions are suitable for the development of supercell, AKA rotating thunderstorms, which can cause a tornado.

The tornado watch also suggests that it is a thunderstorm watch.

It is also announced when the tornado is inactive and a severe thunderstorm develops strong rotation.

The Storm Prediction Center issues a tornado watch following discussion with the local National Weather Service offices. It can cover several counties and even several states.

Please don’t mistake confusing it with the tornado warning, as it is issued only when severe weather occurs.

Upon receiving a tornado watch, you should make an emergency plan and prepare your emergency kit. This will help you leave your area at a moment’s notice if a tornado approaches your neighborhood.

Severe Thunderstorm Warning

A severe thunderstorm warning means that a thunderstorm is brewing and your area is in impending danger.

It is issued by the NWS office and they are often confined to a smaller area than a watch. It can cover parts of one to several counties and may last for 30 minutes to an hour.

The moment you receive the thunderstorm warning, you should head to a safe location where you will be secured.


The strong winds can uproot trees and power lines. It can even cause death to those hit by flying debris or large objects.

If you are indoors at that time, keep your distance from the windows.

It will do you good to take shelter on the ground floor of a sturdy building. Don’t use the land phone or any such device that is attached to the electrical circuits.

The Tornado Warning

A tornado warning is issued by NWS when a tornado along with thunderstorms is imminent or materializing.

It can be issued when strong rotation in the cloud is spotted by the weather agencies, storm chasers, or the public.

A tornado will be limited to a specific few areas. You may hear the tornado sirens provided that any are present in that area.

A tornado can have devastating consequences. A powerful tornado can destroy houses, uproot trees, cause a power outage and injure or kill people.

Even a weak tornado is capable enough to wreak havoc and cause damages to property and lives.

Hence, you must rush to find a sanctuary during a tornado and remain there until the situation calms down. Don’t get on the road until the tornado passes away.

Key Points of a Watch

  • ​The possibility of severe weather
  • ​Does not require immediate action
  • ​Severe weather is not guaranteed
  • ​Issued by the Storm Prediction Center
  • ​Need to make an emergency plan

​Key Points of a Warning

  • ​Issued when a thunderstorm or tornado is spotted
  • ​Requires immediate action
  • ​Issued by the local National Weather Service offices
  • ​Severe weather is guaranteed

​Which Is Worse?

fallen tree

As you can clearly see that a warning is far more dangerous than a watch. While a watch warns you of a possible storm, the warning makes it a certainty.

In short, if a watch is announced, it’s time to make an emergency plan.

In contrast, if a warning is announced, it’s time to act on that plan.

​​Wrapping up​

Now that you know all the difference between a watch and a warning, you should easily understand the weather alerts.

This will help you to take preparation for emergency situations.

Be safe!

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