Tornado watch vs warning: What to do when you see alert messages

Tornado watches and tornado warnings have different purposes, and you should react to each differently, AccuWeather explains.

A tornado watch is typically issued hours in advance by NOAA's Storm Prediction Center (SPC). It means that conditions are ideal for a tornado to form. A watch will not necessarily result in severe weather, AccuWeather explains.

"A watch is issued when conditions are favorable, for example, either for a severe thunderstorm or tornadoes," AccuWeather.com Senior Meteorologist Dan Kottlowski said. "It doesn't mean severe weather is imminent."

If there is a watch in your area, you should keep an eye on weather alerts and be prepared to act. Make sure you know ahead of time what to do if a tornado hits.

While a watch covers a broad region, a warning is issued by a local National Weather Service meteorologist for a smaller area.

A warning means that either a tornado has been spotted or a radar has picked one up.

If you are in an area with a tornado warning, it's time to act immediately. Get to a safe space such as a storm shelter. If you don't have one, the best option is usually in the basement or the middle of a building, away from windows, preferably in an area with reinforced walls.

On rare occasions during significant events such as a tornado outbreak near a heavily populated area, a tornado emergency might be issued. The difference between a warning and an emergency has to do with how widespread the damage could be.

Just as with a tornado warning, those in the path of a tornado emergency should seek shelter and wait for authorities to say when it's safe to come back out.

MORE TORNADO SAFETY INFORMATION

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What to do when you see a tornado while driving

What to do after a tornado

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