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Tornado Watch vs. Warning: What’s the Difference?

Tornadoes are violently rotating columns of air capable of causing immense destruction. When tornadoes wreak havoc, nearly everything in their path is prone to decimation. At their most severe, they can throw cars, rip trees out of the ground, and tear buildings to shreds.

Because tornadoes can be so destructive, authorities will issue tornado watches and warnings to alert people about possible or confirmed tornadoes. But what’s the difference between a tornado watch and warning? Which is more severe? What should one do if a tornado watch has been issued? What about a tornado warning?

Continue reading to learn the difference between a tornado watch and tornado warning, and what you should if either has been issued in your area.

What Is A Tornado Watch?

A tornado watch is issued when weather conditions are favorable for tornadoes to form. However, despite ideal weather conditions, there is no guarantee any tornadoes will actually form. The watch is simply meant to let people know that tornadoes are possible given the current conditions, and that the proper authorities are monitoring the situation.

Tornado watches are issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They can cover multiple counties and even several states, depending on the vastness of the conditions.

What Should I Do During A Tornado Watch?

Although a tornado watch does not necessarily mean a tornado will occur, you still need to remain vigilant and prepared in case the tornado watch is raised to a tornado warning. Ways to remain prepared during a tornado watch include:

Locate all family members and pets. If a tornado forms, having all of your family members and pets nearby will help ensure everyone gets to a safe location.

Tune a nearby TV or radio to a news station that will update you on the situation. While there might not be any tornadoes yet, if one forms, you need to know so that you can take the proper safety steps.

Designate a safety area in your home. The best safety areas are low to the earth, away from windows, and near or against structural or underground walls. These include basements, cellars, under-step closets, and interior bathrooms.

Charge your phone. Ensuring your phone is charged will allow you to stay aware of the situation if you need to move to a safety area without a TV or radio. Locate or create an emergency preparedness kit. This should include the things you’ll need if you have to shelter or evacuate your home, like food, water, any necessary medications, and your cell phone.

What Is A Tornado Warning?

A tornado warning means a tornado is imminent. Tornado warnings are issued by national weather forecasting agencies, usually after a tornado or funnel cloud has been recorded.

Tornado warnings can be issued even if a tornado watch was not first in effect. They will typically include the location where the tornado was spotted as well as any populated areas within its path. Tornado warnings usually last around 30 minutes.

What Should I Do During A Tornado Warning?

If you are in an area where a tornado warning has been issued, get your emergency kit and take shelter in your predetermined safe space with your family and pets. Use your cell phone to stay informed so that you know when the warning has been lifted and it is safe to come out.

What if you cannot make it to your safe space?

If you are unable to make it to the predetermined safe space in your home, find shelter under a heavy piece of furniture such as a dining room table. Stay away from windows and exterior walls as these are among the first parts of the home to be destroyed when tornadoes hit.


What if you are outside?

If you are outside when a tornado warning is issued, try to make it to a nearby structure where you can take shelter. If there are no nearby shelters, find a low area such as a ditch, lay face down on the ground, and protect your head.

What if you are driving?

If you are driving when a tornado warning is issued, find a nearby structure to shelter in. If there are no structures nearby, get out of your car and follow the above instructions. It is not recommended to try to outrun the tornado in your car. Additionally, try to avoid sheltering in underpasses which can act as wind tunnels during tornadoes.

Which Is Worse, A Tornado Watch or Warning?

A tornado warning is more severe than a tornado watch. When a tornado warning is in effect, a tornado has been reported, while a tornado watch simply means the right weather conditions exist for tornadoes to form. Whether a tornado watch or warning has been issued in your area, be sure to follow the suggested safety measures above to ensure the safety of you and your family.

Overcome Tornado Damage With Help From BELFOR

If your property has been damaged due to a tornado, contact the professionals here at BELFOR for professional storm cleanup and recovery services. We offer immediate help to secure your property and prevent further damage from occurring. Services include:

  • Emergency board-up service
  • Perimeter fencing
  • Building shrink wrap
  • Emergency security personnel
  • Demolition and reconstruction services

Check out our tornado preparedness page for additional information on protecting your property and staying safe during tornadoes. When tornadoes hit, BELFOR is here to help you deal with the aftermath. near you today to get started.