Know your Risk

What's a Watch? What's a Warning?

Date Posted: April 23, 2012

Each year, people are killed or seriously injured by tornadoes and other types of severe weather, despite advance warning. In 2011, there were more than 1,000 weather-related fatalities and more than 8,000 injuries. These tragic losses fuel the resolve to build a Weather-Ready Nation.

Weather-readiness begins long before severe weather threatens. One of the first things individuals and communities can do is learn about their specific risk when it comes to severe weather. Gather information about hazards by contacting your local emergency management office, American Red Cross chapter and National Weather Service weather forecast office. Knowing and understanding this information ahead of time will help you prepare by understanding what types of disasters could occur and how best to respond and protect yourself. It is also critical to learn your community’s warning signals and emergency plans.

One easy way to know your risk is to understand the difference between a “watch” versus a “warning.” Watches and warnings from the National Weather Service could save your life and knowing what to do for each of them is critical to being a force of nature in the face of severe weather.

A watch lets you know that weather conditions are favorable for a hazard to occur. It literally means “be on guard!”  During a weather watch, gather awareness of the specific threat and prepare for action — monitor the weather to find out if severe weather conditions have deteriorated and discuss your protective action plans with your family — such as going to the basement or storm shelter. 

A warning requires immediate action. This means a weather hazard is imminent — it is either occurring (a tornado has been spotted, for example) — or it is about to occur at any moment. During a weather warning, it is important to take action: grab the emergency kit you’ve prepared in advance and head to safety immediately. Both watches and warnings are important, but warnings are more urgent.

To learn more, check out this “What’s a Watch?” video. For more information on how you can participate this week and increase both your and your community’s preparedness check out A digital toolkit for the week is available here.


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