What's the difference between weather watches and warnings?

Complete breakdown of what to expect with different watches, warnings

By Brianna Volz - Web producer

ORLANDO, Fla. - The season for severe weather is here, so let’s get prepared by brushing up on our weather lingo.

You often hear your local meteorologist talk about a watch or warning being in effect in your area, especially during summer months when the tropics see more activity than usual. But do you know what those terms mean? 

Does one indicate a more severe weather pattern than the other? Should you be alarmed by either word? What should you do to prepare if a watch or warning is in effect for your area?

The National Weather Service offers the following definitions for “watch” and “warning” in its weather glossary:

  • Watch: used when the risk of a hazardous weather or hydrologic event has increased significantly, but its occurrence, location, and/or timing is still uncertain. It is intended to provide enough lead time so that those who need to set their plans in motion can do so.
  • Warning: issued when a hazardous weather or hydrologic event is occurring, is imminent, or has a very high probability of occurring. A warning is used for conditions posing a threat to life or property.

A warning is issued when dangerous weather is about to happen, is already taking place or is highly expected to occur. It’s used to alert people when weather conditions are posing a threat to life or property, such as homes and businesses.

So what does it mean a certain watch or warning is issued where you live? Let’s break down some of the watches and warnings Floridians tend to see. 

Both watches and warnings of any kind are used to make people aware, not alarmed. And people should always have a plan in place ahead of time so they’re ready to react if and when the time comes.  You can read more about preparing for dangerous weather here.

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