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Tornado season kicked off with a bang this February with a slew of tornado reports that together amounted to one of the more active Februaries the country has seen in recent years.
Will we have an active tornado season or a slow one?
I’m no weather girl and so I don’t concern myself with the predictions. Instead, I focus on being prepared for any type of severe weather. But it did get me thinking about the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning.
Understanding the Differences Between Tornado Watches and Warnings
When the sky goes dark and the winds pick up, should you be worried about a tornado? Depending on what part of the country or world you live, maybe you should be.
But not every thunderstorm produces tornadoes and in fact most do not. So how are you supposed to know when it’s time to find shelter? When do you take action and when do you sit down with a blanket and hot cocoa?
I remember a few years ago I had this gut feeling we would see an increase in tornados. I don’t know why I had this feeling, but I did.
We don’t get many tornados in Massachusetts so I decided to do some research and learn about the differences between watches and warnings.
One of the best resources I used was the Noaa.gov site. One of the first things I learned was the importance of following your local weather forecast for alerts.
My local station WCVB TV 5 here in Boston has a great app you can download right onto your phone that will send you weather updates along with severe weather alerts anytime a storm is headed to where you live. I signed up immediately.
When your local weather team issues a tornado watch, it means that conditions for a tornado are favorable. Much like bird watching, people are searching the skies for a glimpse of a tornado. So far, however, nobody has spotted one despite good conditions for one.
But just because it hasn’t been spotted yet doesn’t mean it won’t ever form.
When a tornado watch is issued for your area, use that time to inspect your emergency supplies, review your emergency plans, and make sure you have a safe room you can get to in a moment’s notice.
That year I was concerned about an increase in tornadoes, I developed a plan for me and my mom to be safe.
Everyone thought I was crazy, but just a few weeks later, we did have our first of several tornados that year.
Tornado watches can cover a large area, so don’t be surprised if a tornado does come, just not to your neighborhood.
Remember the show Lost In Space when the robot would wave his hands wildly at the first sign of danger? He’d proclaim, “Danger, danger Will Robinson!” Well that’s what an alert on your phone is like.
If you receive a tornado warning, it means a storm is quickly on approach. But it’s not just any storm. This one indicates there is a strong rotation as picked up by Doppler Radar. It means there has been a confirmed sighting of a tornado.
This is the time to take shelter immediately.
Get to your safe room or otherwise find shelter in a safe place.
Life and property are considered at imminent risk during a tornado warning, so there is no time to delay in retreating to safety. Steer clear of windows and outside walls. Move inward and to the lowest level of the building as possible. Do not use an elevator – use stairs.
Unlike tornado watches, warnings cover a much smaller locale, so if you are within the area specified, you definitely need to take action.
Being aware of the weather around you is one of the many ways of staying safe.
Since you may not always have power during these storms, it’s smart to have an emergency weather radio on hand so you can keep tabs on what’s going on outside, and if there are any tornado watches or warnings in effect.
I personally like the hand crank NOAA approved radio like you see here:
This compact and economical radio is just $19.99 and worth the small amount of money to make sure you’re safe in a storm. If you don’t already have one, consider adding this to your emergency preparedness supplies.
When storms pick up, stay alert and aware of the weather going on outside – especially if you live in a tornado-prone area.
Knowing what the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning can make all the difference when it comes to weathering the storms around you.