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A Watch Versus a Warning

posted on Sunday, October 25th, 2009 at 4:19 pm
Expired Weather Warnings, Image: NOAA

Expired Weather Warnings, Image: NOAA

When a TV weather forecaster breaks into television programming, it’s usually to tell the viewers a watch or a warning has been issued by the National Weather Service. The National Weather Service is the government agency in charge of issuing weather warnings to save lives and protect property.The NWS issues the warning, television stations broadcast it to the viewers. The image above tells us the National Weather Service has issued two different warnings for Southeastern Texas and Western Louisiana. The counties colored red are under tornado warnings. A tornado warning means that a tornado has either been spotted visually

Union City, Oklahoma 1973, Image: NSSL, NOAA

Union City, Oklahoma 1973, Image: NSSL, NOAA

or it has been detected by Doppler radar. When a tornado warning is issued, this means viewers need to take immediate shelter. Click on the following link for more information on tornado safety. The counties shaded in green are under flood warnings. This means that heavy rain has caused river levels to rise in those areas. A flash flood warning means that a flash flood is occurring or about to occur. Flash floods typically occur during torrential rain events.

Expired Tornado Watch, Image: NOAA

Expired Tornado Watch, Image: NOAA

Television viewers are most likely not surprised when the National Weather Service issues a warning. They have probably seen the skies darken, lightning flash in the distance, and heard the rumbling of thunder. By the time a flash flood warning or a tornado warning has been issued, viewers need to take immediate action to protect their lives or property. Television forecasters don’t have much time to tell viewers they are in danger when a tornado is already on the ground, or heavy rain has turned into a flash flood event.  It is the job of forecasters at the Storm Prediction Center in Oklahoma to forecast the possibility of severe weather days in advance, and give local forecasters a heads up that they need to warn viewers that they need to prepare for severe weather. The Storm Prediction Center is in charge of issuing watches. (This can be a flood watch, tornado watch, severe thunderstorm watch, etc.)

A tornado watch means that conditions are right for the development of tornadoes. A watch can be issued when the sky is blue and the weather does not seem at all threatening. On a Sunday morning, you may leave for church, then an afternoon of shopping at the mall and be totally surprised by severe thunderstorms passing through as you try and leave the shopping mall to head home. This is why forecasters at the Storm Prediction Center spend hours trying to predict the weather days in advance of developing storms, to give people adequate time to protect their property and save lives.

If you live in an area where severe thunderstorms occur, you are responsible for making sure you know what precautions to take when the National Weather Service issues a warning. Again click on the following link for the latest information on tornado safety.

The main threat from flash floods comes in the form of water filling roadways. Flash floods are the #1 severe weather related killer from in the United States. (Heat related deaths are the highest overall.) Most of the threat comes from people trying to cross flooded roadways. Six inches of fast moving water can knock you off your feet. (Source: Turn Around, Don’t Drown, National Weather Service Southern Regional Headquarters.)   

Flash Flooding, Image: NOAA

Flash Flooding, Image: NOAA

-Dawn Brown

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