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Understanding Tornado Alerts: Watch vs. Warning And How To Stay Safe

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Tornado

It is a commonly asked question regarding severe weather: what distinguishes a Tornado Watch from a Tornado Warning, and how should one prepare for both?

The Gulf Coast is anticipating severe weather to approach on Tuesday afternoon, resulting in a tornado watch being issued for numerous counties in the Tampa Bay area and a total of 15 counties across Florida.

This watch will remain in effect until 9 p.m. and includes counties such as Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Polk, and others.

However, considering that a tornado has already occurred in Panama City Beach earlier in the day, Floridians must be prepared for the potential occurrence of tornadoes.

What distinguishes a tornado watch from a tornado warning?

Tornado Watch: A tornado watch is issued when there is a possibility of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes occurring in or near the designated watch area.

It indicates that conditions are conducive to tornado formation, as per the National Weather Service (NWS), but does not guarantee that a tornado will occur.

A severe thunderstorm is defined as having winds of 58 mph or higher and/or hail of 1 inch in diameter or larger.

Tornado Warning: A tornado warning is issued when a tornado is imminent or has been detected in the area. When a tornado warning is issued, immediate action is crucial, and individuals should seek safe shelter promptly.

Which is more severe: A tornado watch or warning?

A tornado warning is more critical as it signifies that a tornado is imminent. In such a situation, taking shelter immediately is paramount.

What to do during a tornado warning:

In the event of a tornado warning, it is crucial to take immediate action to ensure your safety. The National Weather Service (NWS) provides the following guidelines:

  1. Stay Informed: Stay tuned to local news or NOAA Weather Radio for updates on tornado watches and warnings. Remain aware of the changing weather conditions.
  2. At Home: If a tornado warning is issued and you are at home, head to your basement, a safe room, or an interior room away from windows. Ensure that pets are included in your safety measures, if time allows.
  3. At Work or School: Follow the tornado drill procedures and promptly move to the designated tornado shelter. Avoid large open spaces like cafeterias, gymnasiums, or auditoriums, and stay away from windows.
  4. Outdoors: Seek shelter immediately inside a sturdy building if a tornado is approaching. Sheds, storage facilities, mobile homes, and tents are not safe. If time permits, make your way to a secure building.
  5. In a Vehicle: It is unsafe to be in a vehicle during a tornado. Drive to the nearest shelter if possible. If you cannot reach a safe location, either crouch down in your car and cover your head or abandon the vehicle and find shelter in a low-lying area like a ditch or ravine.

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