While the peak occurrences for severe weather events in the United States happen between March and October, severe weather can occur at any time. In order to save lives, branches of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will issue public watches and warnings.
Knowing the difference between the two can prepare individuals for the necessary steps to take when considering the threat of severe weather. Watches and warnings issued to the public are based on different criteria.
"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."
"Typical watches cover about 25,000 square miles, or about half the size of Iowa," according to the SPC.
Kottlowski said there are no set criteria for issuing watches, but if the conditions seem consistent with a developing severe weather pattern, watches can be changed and altered by monitoring ongoing developments.
"It can vary," he said. "There is not just one set of ingredients; every watch may have a different set of perimeters from one day to the next since it is based on a synoptic situation that may change within several hours."
Warnings mean that severe weather is imminent and is based on specific criteria and existing reports received by the NWS.
(Photo/NOAA Photo Library)
The criteria include hail that totals more than 1 inch in diameter and wind speeds of 55 mph.
"Lightning is not a criteria for a severe thunderstorm warning," Kottlowski said. "Heavy rain is not either."
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Warnings must follow the two main criteria, he said, adding urban flood and stream advisories, flash flood watches and warnings, and flood watches and warnings, may accompany a storm with heavy rain.
Warnings are issued through the efforts of individuals working for the NWS.
"The way a warning is issued is that a meteorologist will monitor the weather by radar and look for particular areas where there could be high impact damage," Kottlowski said. "They will issue a warning and there will be a signature for an existing storm or developing tornado."
Trained NWS spotters will verify reports of rotation or storm damage.
"This gives the meteorologists confidence in what they are seeing on radar," he said.
Multiple tornadoes touched down across Indiana and Ohio on Wednesday, one of which flattened a Starbucks in the town of Kokomo, Indiana.
A budding tropical disturbance has the potential to strengthen significantly and reach Florida and the Bahamas with strong winds, coastal flooding and torrential rainfall during Sunday and Monday.
Rounds of showers and thunderstorms will bring the potential for flash flooding and localized damaging wind gusts through Thursday.
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A deadly earthquake struck central Italy at 3:36 a.m. local time on Wednesday with tremors felt as far away as the capital city of Rome.
Sturtevant, IN (2001)
A tornado 3 miles north-northwest of town. The tornado destroyed a hay barn with a horse trailer pushed out the back of the barn. A power pole was snapped off and wires were downed near Old Highway 11. A speed trailer near Highway 11 and I-94 was destroyed. Large barricades were lifted from the south side of Highway 11 and moved to the north side. Total losses exceeded $30,000. The path length of the tornado was 3 miles.
Washington, D.C. (1814)
Tornado struck part of Washington, D.C., killing many British soldiers who were burning the capitol.
South Carolina (1885)
Hurricane struck SC; $1.3 million damage at Charleston with many fatalities.