Severe Weather Awareness Week: Watches vs Warnings and Severe Thunderstorm Classifications

Today is day two of severe weather awareness week here in the Carolinas. North Carolina’s topic of the day is severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. You can find more information on that here. South Carolina’s focus is on the difference between watches and warnings. This can sometimes be a confusing topic for people to understand. But, it’s important to know the difference between the two when severe weather is possible in the forecast.

Watches vs Warnings

Watch Vs Warning

A watch means that conditions are right for severe storms to develop. This is the time to make a plan with your family and make sure you have multiple ways to get weather notifications.

A warning means severe storms are happening. You must seek shelter immediately and remain in place until that warning has expired.

An easier way to know the difference between a watch and a warning is to think of The Wizard of Oz and the Wicked Witch of the West. When Dorothy met the wicked witch in Kansas she knew something wasn’t right and she should ‘watch’ out for her. When she met her again with the green makeup, hat, and broom everything came together and it was on – and that is the ‘warning’.

Severe Thunderstorm Classifications

Severe Storm Categories

There was an addition to severe thunderstorm classification last year: base, considerable and destructive.

A base classification means winds are stronger than 58 mph and hail is up to quarter-sized or 1″ in diameter.

The next classification is considerable. This means winds are more than 70 mph and hail is the size of golf balls or 1.75″ in diameter.

The highest classification is destructive. This means winds are more than 80 mph and hail is the size of a baseball or 2.75″ in diameter A destructive severe thunderstorm will also trigger the Weather Emergency Alert on your phone as it does for tornado and flash flood warnings.