The Difference Between a Tornado Warning and Tornado Watch, Explained

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Tornado season is no joke! Between May and June (generally speaking), the United States experiences what is called “tornado season”, when the winds and weather are just right to give us some incredibly intense weather. And if the 2020 season is any indication, this year is going to be a big one.

Even if you don’t live in “tornado alley”, the area of the US that gets hit the hardest, you could see some intense storms and potential tornado activity. The first thing you know when being prepared is the basics – what is the difference between a tornado watch, and a tornado warning?

Tornado Watch, Explained

A tornado watch is a warning: be prepared, conditions are right! The National Weather Service will send these out when wind conditions and atmospheric conditions are typical for creating a tornado, big or small.

A tornado watch does not mean that there is for sure going to be a tornado, but it does mean you should prepare for the worst. Check your emergency supplies, go over your emergency plan with your family, and make sure that everyone is on the same page should a tornado pop up.

Tornado watches normally cover large stretches of areas, so the National Weather Service can sort of cover their base. Tornados move and turn very quickly, so it’s important that everyone who could be affected is aware.

Tornado Warning, Explained

A tornado warning is when it gets serious. The National Weather Service issues a tornado warning when a tornado has been spotted in the area. This could be a small tornado, a tornado that hasn’t touched the ground yet, or a gathering of clouds and weather that appears like it could spawn a tornado.

This means it’s getting real, now. When you get a tornado warning in your area you need to enact your family’s emergency plan, which means moving to your designated sheltering area until the warning passes.

Ideally, this is a basement, in an area without windows, but it could be a bathroom in a tub, or a closet with no windows. It’s very important to have this plan in place before this moment.

Tornado warnings cover a much smaller area, usually a county or a single city, which gives the residents the best chance of getting to shelter. This also means, however, if you receive a tornado warning there is a good chance it is close to your area, and you should take it seriously.