What is the difference between a Tornado Watch, Tornado Warning and Tornado Emergency?

The primary goal of any alert issued by the National Weather Service is to protect life and property. Some are more urgent than others, and knowing their differences can help you stay safe.

When severe weather is happening, meteorologists at the National Weather Service will issue a variety of alerts to keep you informed about the dangers you could face with tornadoes. 

Some alerts are more urgent than others, and knowing their differences can help you stay safe. The primary goal of any alert issued by the NWS is to protect life and property.

WATCH VS. WARNING: HERE ARE THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THESE WEATHER TERMS THAT COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE

Let’s take a closer look at the terms used in these tornado alerts, starting with the least serious.

What is a Tornado Watch?

A Tornado Watch means conditions are favorable for tornadoes to form. If one is issued in your area, you should monitor local weather reports and be prepared to take shelter if a warning is issued where you are.

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What is a Tornado Warning?

If a Tornado Warning is issued for your county, a tornado has been indicated by radar, or someone has seen it on the ground. It would be best if you moved to the lowest level of your building – preferably a basement or storm shelter. 

You want to find a room in the center of the building and stay away from windows. You want to put as many walls between you and the tornado as possible, making flying debris harder to reach and injure you. Also, use a helmet or other object to cover your head if possible.

What is a Tornado Emergency?

A Tornado Emergency is rare, and there are specific criteria for that to be issued, according to the NWS.

There needs to be a severe threat to human life that is imminent or ongoing, catastrophic damage is imminent or ongoing, and reliable sources such as a trained spotter or Doppler radar must provide strong evidence that a damaging tornado exists.

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