Terms like severe thunderstorm WATCH and flood WARNING are terms that meteorologists take as given; there is no doubt in our minds what they mean. It is important for us to remember that although WE know what they mean and we try our best to teach you, our audience, what they mean; you may get them confused.
If the terms “watch” and “warning” bamboozle you, this article will serve as a refresher, or reminder as to what the difference between a watch and warning actually are.
Watches and warnings are NOT issued by meteorologists at television stations. They are only issued by the National Weather Service (NWS). When they are in place, we only relay that information to you. A “watch” means that the conditions are favorable for the event covered under the watch to occur. When the potential for heavy rain exists or is in the forecast, the NWS may issue a “Flood Watch”. Given the historic flooding of this past September, above average liquid precipitation received this year and saturated soils, many folks are familiar with the term “Flood Watch”. This means that the combination of saturated soil and potential for heavy rain COULD lead to flooding –either Flash flooding or River Flooding. It does not mean that flooding will happen for sure, or that it is happening currently. You need to be prepared to take action to protect yourself, your family, or your property, in the event flooding is detected or reported.
If heavy rain has developed, is expected to continue for a period of time, or if flooding is reported by you, state or county officials, a “Flood Warning” will be issued. This means that flooding is ongoing or is happening RIGHT NOW. This is the more serious of the two. If action has not been taken to prepare yourself, your family, or your property from flooding, there is a chance you could be adversely affected by it.
This article used flooding as an example. We all know that flooding is not the only weather event that can cause damage or harm. The same is true for tornado watches and warnings, or winter storm watches and warnings. You need to be ready to take action if the threat being broadcast is realized. Click here for more Watch vs. Warning information from the USA Today.