Tornado Watch Vs. Warning — What’s the Difference?

Tornado is shown in the distance of a countryside under a tornado warning.

Severe weather has wreaked havoc across many regions of the country already this spring, with the potential for much more to come. That’s because many natural disasters have a “season” when they are most likely to occur, and for tornadoes, that peak time is March through June. According to the National Weather Service, this period is when nearly 70% of tornadoes occur.

The current volatile weather season spotlights why it’s important to know when to take the appropriate precautions. We know that it can be very concerning to hear that a tornado is brewing near your area. While it’s never a bad idea to start preparing your home for a possible tornado, it’s critical to know the difference between taking some initial steps to secure your location and actually kicking into high gear and heading to a safe space.

Here’s what to know about the difference between a tornado “watch” and a tornado “warning.”

What is a tornado watch?

A tornado “watch” is designed to give you an early heads-up that tornadoes are possible in and around your area. They are issued by the NOAA Storm Prediction Center and typically cover a large swath of the region that likely includes several counties and sometimes even entire states.

If you hear of a tornado watch, this is the time to be watchfully ready. You’ll want to:

  • Check your supplies and replenish them if needed. ( has a comprehensive checklist of basic supplies you should have prepared for any emergency.)
  • Review your emergency plan with your family, including where to seek shelter and who to call outside the area in case local phone lines are down or overloaded.
  • Safeguard your home by ensuring heavy items are secured with straps or brackets or moved to low surfaces. Clear your outdoor area of furniture, gardening supplies, toys, and any other potential hazards that could become airborne.
  • Pay attention to alerts. Sign up for text or social media notices from your city, local agencies, or local news providers so you are ready for the next steps if needed.

What is a tornado warning?

 A tornado “warning” means that danger is imminent in your area. A warning is issued by a local NOAA National Weather Service Forecast Office and indicates that a tornado has been identified in your immediate area on radar or reported by a trained storm spotter who is watching for definite signs.

When you hear a warning, it’s imperative to not delay. Immediately move away from windows and seek shelter away from flying debris. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), good options include:

  • A storm cellar
  • A basement
  • An inside room without windows on the lowest floor (such as a bathroom, closet, or center hallway)

An easy way to picture a tornado watch vs. a warning

While severe weather should never be taken lightly, one way to consider a tornado watch vs. a tornado warning is through the “taco analogy.”

  • A watch means that all the ingredients are in place for tacos to be made
  • A warning means the tacos are ready to be served right now

Knowing the difference between a tornado watch and tornado warning will allow you to take the appropriate safety measures according to the severity of the situation.

Take the right steps today

Before either situation arises, give yourself the gift of peace of mind by knowing you are as prepared as possible. That includes stockpiling proper supplies and creating an emergency plan to share with your family which identifies the steps you need to take and suggestions for the safest possible place to shelter.

Another important precaution to take is ensuring you have adequate insurance coverage in the event of a tornado — or any situation that can cause damage to your home. Visit Matic today to compare policies and find a coverage option that will protect your home and valuables.

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This Blog/Vlog/Website is made available by Matic Insurance Services, Inc. for educational and informational purposes only. Matic makes no representation or warranty of any kind, express or implied, concerning the accuracy, completeness, or suitability of the information contained herein. Insurance products and services described may not be offered in all states. Eligibility for insurance will be determined at the time of application based upon applicable underwriting guidelines and rules in effect at that time. A Matic Insurance Agent can offer you practical guidance and answer questions you may have before you buy.