Severe Weather: Here's the difference between a watch and warning, plus how to prepare

Posted at 7:21 PM, Mar 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-18 19:21:04-04

INDIANAPOLIS — As Hoosiers, we know that we can see all sorts of weather throughout the course of a year, from heat to wind to ice to snow to severe storms.

As a result, the National Weather Service and WRTV are both here to keep you informed and prepared as we enter severe weather season.

The National Weather Service is the agency that issues watches, warnings, and advisories. WRTV will then inform you of them through all our platforms. Year after year, though, there seems to be confusion on the difference between a watch and a warning.

A watch is basically what the word means. Watch for conditions to change. Think of it as making dinner and getting all the ingredients together. It means conditions are favorable for inclement weather. This is the time for you and your family to make a plans in case the weather gets severe. A watch will usually come out hours in advance.

A warning means the event is already occurring or likely to occur shortly. If the watch was getting the ingredients together, the warning is the meal or the main event. This is the time you put your severe weather plan into action and get in your safe place. Act immediately.

Watches and warnings are also issued for winter weather along with heat and wind. But for those, you usually have hours and sometimes days to prepare. The three most urgent warnings we see in central Indiana are thunderstorms, tornadoes, and flash flood warnings.

With any of these warnings, you need to be inside in a safe location. It is also important to remember that sometimes you can get one of these warnings with a watch in place.

What to do in the event of a thunderstorm

Thunderstorms are beautiful and majestic parts of the weather, but also violent and dangerous.

A storm is not considered a thunderstorm until it produces lightning. Each storm is unique and produces many different kinds of lightning.

The three most common types of thunderstorms are intracloud, cloud to cloud, and cloud to ground.

Intracloud is the most common. This lightning occurs in the upper levels of the atmosphere.

The most dangerous kind of lightning for you and me is cloud to ground.

It is important to note that many people think that if there is no severe weather that a storm isn’t dangerous. This is false.

Lightning makes every storm dangerous, whether it is severe or not. For a storm to technically be severe, it needs to contain 1-inch-diameter hail, 58 or higher mph winds, or a tornado.

Only about 10% of thunderstorms get to severe limits. That is why it is very important to take the appropriate precautions anytime you see lightning or hear thunder.

When you are at outdoor events, oftentimes you may wonder why that event gets delayed or canceled when the weather seems fine where you are. The event organizers are doing the right thing to keep you safe. Lightning can travel up to 10 miles from the thunderstorm itself.

So, even if the sky is blue where you are, you can still get stuck. If you hear thunder, that means the storm is close enough to present danger. It is critical for outdoor events that you wait 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder to resume what you were doing.

About 64% of weather-related deaths occur during outdoor recreation with two-thirds of those casualties occurring between the hours of noon to 6 p.m. This makes sense since that is during the peak heat of the day. Most casualties happen during water activities such as boating and swimming, or sports such as soccer and golf, where people are out in the open.

To protect yourself, check the forecast, watch for the signs, take early precautions, avoid tall structures. The best precaution you can take is to be inside a secured structure with an automobile as your second alternative.

Remember the phrase "When the thunder roars, go indoors”.

Use this week to review your severe weather plan with your family. Have a safety kit as well in case you lose power. Also, download WRTV's free Storm Shield app. It will alert you to any watches or warnings that are issued.