Severe Weather Awareness: Watch vs. Warning (and a bonus)

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By Scott Roberts

I give numerous weather safety talks every year, and I’m always surprised to find that even people who have lived in Kansas all their life aren’t aware of the difference between watch and warning…and especially what each one means in terms of preparedness.
Here are the key differences:

Watch – Prepare

Warning – Act Now


Know the Risks

Severe Weather Hazards
Severe Weather Hazards – click to expand

In my talks, I recommend having multiple ways to receive watches and warnings. I recommend the Red Cross Tornado app and having a Weather Radio as the primary means, and as watches shift to warnings I recommend media (I’m partial to KWCH) and live streams (mine is at KSStorm.TV)

What about sirens?

Warning sirens are NOT meant to be heard inside your house or business. They are strictly outdoor warning devices only. As Saline County Emergency Manager Hanna Stambaugh explains, sirens are placed where they are to cover areas where people spend time outdoors such as parks, pools and playgrounds.

Ugly Truths About Storm Safety

Social science explains why we need multiple, overlapping sources for alerts:

The ugly Reality of Warnings

Mark Bogner dispels some myths about storm safety in this post from 2015: The Deep Dark Secrets of Severe Weather Safety

When the warning comes

A great video from the National Weather Service describes the best reaction to a tornado warning depending on your circumstances at the moment the warnign is issued:

Tomorrow: Disaster Kits — What to Have in Yours

Tomorrow’s post will include downloadable lists for your family, your pets, and a special list for those with special needs. We’ll also discuss what to expect in the aftermath of a tornado and if you have to go to a shelter.

Bonus: Where most deaths from tornadoes happen

Southern states are where more people die from tornadoes. Credit: ABC 33/40, Huntsville, AL
Southern states are where more people die from tornadoes. Credit: ABC 33/40, Huntsville, AL (h/t Mike Smith)

The main reasons why:

  • Most tornadoes in the South happen at night
  • Basements are less common
  • The forestation gives more projectiles to damage buildings (see the photo at the top of this article for an example)

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