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Understanding the Difference Between Weather Watches and Warnings

James Michalski

Created: 3/13/2024

Updated: 4/19/2024


Severe weather watches and warnings are essential tools National Weather Service or Environment and Climate Change Canada meteorologists use to communicate the potential risks of extreme weather events.

However, there are significant differences between the two, and understanding those differences can be critical for staying safe during storms, especially when selecting which alerts to receive using Adiona Alert.

Severe Weather Watches

A severe weather watch is issued when conditions are favourable for the development of severe weather, such as thunderstorms, tornadoes, or strong winds. Watches are typically issued several hours in advance and cover a relatively large geographical area, often spanning several counties, states, or provinces. When a watch is issued, it is issued so you can be aware of the potential for severe weather and take steps to prepare ahead of the storm, such as securing outdoor items or actively staying informed about changing weather.

For our users, receiving severe weather watches allows you to review your plans for the day, ensuring everyone in your group is aware and prepared for the potential risks of the day's weather conditions. It's the perfect opportunity to review and agree on the appropriate precautions should a severe thunderstorm, flash flood or other dangerous weather be imminent.

In some instances, it may allow you to change your plans, staying off of an exposed ridge and instead exploring an area that provides some refuge. For work crews, this allows the team leader to remind their team of the expected actions from each member during severe weather.

Severe Weather Warning

On the other hand, a severe weather warning is issued when severe weather is already occurring or is imminent.

Warnings are more urgent than watches and are typically issued when there is a high likelihood of significant damage or injury. Warnings are usually issued for a smaller area, often just a single county or city. They are meant to alert people to take immediate action to protect themselves and their property.

If you receive a severe weather warning, you should take immediate action to seek shelter and protect yourself and your group from impending danger.

It's important to note that severe weather watches and warnings are not perfect predictors of storms, and conditions can change quickly. Therefore, it's always a good idea to stay informed about weather updates and plan how to respond to severe weather, regardless of whether a watch or warning has been issued.

Should You Be Receiving Weather Watches?

You might be considering opting out of receiving severe weather watches to reduce the number of alerts you receive, thinking that receiving a warning for an immediate and specific threatening storm is enough, allowing you to save the cost of the additional alerts or because you have received watches in the past that did not amount to a significant storm.

However, we strongly suggest that all users make sure they continue to receive watches. Receiving a severe weather watch early in the day because of the potential of life-threatening weather later in the day provides you with options and allows you to prepare. Your options are likely far more limited late in the afternoon, exposed on a ridge, as a massive thunderstorm is approaching rapidly. Or you may not have time to find higher ground once a flash flood warning is issued.

Both watches and warnings are essential for staying safe during extreme weather events and should be taken seriously. The extra alert could save your life! 

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