Know when to take action: Severe weather outlooks, watches & warnings

Posted at 8:00 PM, Mar 12, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-13 17:39:14-04

Severe weather can happen in Indiana any month of the year. But the frequency of severe weather, and tornadoes in particular, sees an uptick that lasts from March through July.


That's why now is a good time to brush up on some weather terms you will hear the WRTV Storm Team use, so you know when to take action.

First on the list is the severe weather OUTLOOK. Maps like the one below are usually issued by the Storm Prediction Center a day or more in advance of a severe weather event.


The outlook scale ranges from Marginal to High risk, with storm intensity and coverage increasing with each category. It's not unusual for us to be included in several Marginal or Slight risk areas each year. Moderate and High risk categories are much more rare across our part of the country.


Another term you often hear in the spring and summer is a WATCH. A WATCH means conditions are favorable for severe weather, usually within the next couple of hours. A WATCH covers a large area at a time, while a WARNING covers a much smaller area — usually parts of counties — for less than an hour. When a warning is issued, it's time to take action to protect you and your family from severe weather.


A severe thunderstorm warning is issued when winds reach 58 mph or greater or the storm is producing hail of 1" or larger. A tornado warning is issued when either a tornado is spotted or the wind signature on radar indicates a possible tornado.


Radar signatures play an even more important role in detecting a tornado at night. Not only are tornadoes more difficult to spot in the dark, but many of us are usually sleeping and likely unaware of an approaching threat.

According to a Northern Illinois University study, nearly 33% of tornadoes that impacted Indiana between 1950 and 2005 occurred at night. The study also found that nighttime tornadoes in the U.S. are nearly twice as likely to result in fatalities than tornadoes that happen during the day. That's why it's so important to have a device like a weather radio or the FREE Storm Shield app, which you can download here. Both will alert you day or night when a severe weather watch or warning is issued for where you are.