Now is the time of year when we begin to hear the familiar tones on our radios and televisions warning us of approaching severe weather. These watches and warnings provide life-saving information but few people understand there is a big difference between the two types.
Dozens of weather-related fatalities occur every year in Colorado, many simply out of ignorance. Taking the time to be aware of the conditions around you and taking appropriate action will keep you from becoming a statistic.
- This is one in a series of articles for Colorado Severe Weather Awareness Week. Visit our main page for new articles every day on how to keep you and your family safe
Naturally you can get information on current advisories from television, as local stations usually do a good job of “crawling” them on the screen when they are issued. This works well if you have a TV available, but if not, the radio would be a secondary source. The Internet and the National Weather Service’s website are great sources when at a computer.
The problem with relying on news media or the Internet is that their ability to warn you of a developing weather situation is dependent on your monitoring them. Severe weather can strike without little warning. How will you know if severe weather is about to strike if you don’t have the TV or radio on?
Your first line of defense – NOAA All Hazards Radio
For just about anywhere, a special radio that picks up theNOAA’s All Hazard Radio broadcasts is the way to go and provides information from the source. Oftentimes simply called a weather radio, we highly recommend every household have one of these.
These radios are relatively inexpensive and allow you to be notified immediately of official National Weather Service warnings, watches and forecasts as well as other hazard information like earthquakes, avalanches, chemical spills and even AMBER alerts. In fact, with these radios, you will be notified at the exact same time the news media is made aware, giving you a head start on preparing for a developing situation.
For more information on these life-saving devices, click here.
A high-tech alternative – Cell phone weather apps
Many people now have smartphones that allow for downloadable apps and weather-related ones are among the most popular.
All of these applications have a number of weather related features in common. All provide current conditions for either the location the user is in now or for saved locations and all provide some sort of radar.
Most can be configured to sound an alert when the National Weather Service issues a watch or warning. While they are no substitue for a weather radio, these apps provide you with immediate notification no matter where you are at.
For a look at some of these weather apps and their features, click here.
Type of Weather Alerts
A statement generally provides additional or follow up information to an existing weather condition. An example could be a short-term forecast from the National Weather Service advising of above normal wind speeds – a common one that is issued here on the Front Range.
An advisory is for less serious conditions that can cause significant inconvenience and, if caution is not exercised, could lead to situations that may threaten life and/or property. These usually are occurring at the location the advisory covers and the National Weather Service may activate its spotter system to better track and evaluate these systems.
A watch is used when the risk of a hazardous weather event has increased significantly, but its occurrence, locations and/or timing is still uncertain. It is intended to provide advance notice of possible inclement weather. Think of these in terms of, “Watch out! Something is coming!” These help to provide enough notice that those who are affected can implement any plans they might need to in order to prepare for the event should it escalate. If you are in an area under a watch, you should plan where to go for shelter, should the weather situation deteriorate, especially for outdoor activities or driving. The National Weather Service may activate its spotter system to better track and evaluate these systems.
These are the most severe and critical types of weather alerts and their importance cannot be overstated. A warning is used for conditions posing an immediate threat to life or property. You might read the last part of that previous sentence again — an immediate threat to life or property. This means taking appropriate action and seeking shelter immediately. Severe thunderstorm warnings, tornado warnings and flash flood warnings in particular are serious matters and you need to be proactive to protect yourself and your property. The National Weather Service will almost certainly activate its spotter system to better track and evaluate these systems.
Common Alerts in Colorado: *
- Tornado Watch (WT)
Conditions are favorable for the development of severe thunderstorms producing tornadoes in and close to the watch area. Watches are usually in effect for several hours, with 6 hours being the most common. (Also automatically indicates a Severe Thunderstorm Watch)
- Tornado Warning (TOR)
Tornado is indicated by radar or sighted by storm spotters. The warning will include where the tornado is and what towns will be in its path. (Also automatically indicates a Severe Thunderstorm Warning)
- Severe Thunderstorm Watch (WS)
Conditions are favorable for the development of severe thunderstorms in and close to the watch area. Watches are usually in effect for several hours, with 6 hours being the most common.
- Severe Thunderstorm Warning (SVR)
Issued when a thunderstorm produces hail 1 inch (25 mm) or larger in diameter and/or winds which equal or exceed 58 mph (93 km/h). Severe thunderstorms can result in the loss of life and/or property. Information in this warning includes: where the storm is, what towns will be affected and the primary threat associated with the storm. Tornadoes can develop in severe thunderstorms without the issuance of a tornado warning.
- Severe Weather Statement (SVS)
Issued when the forecaster wants to follow up a warning with important information on the progress of severe weather elements.
- Flash Flood Watch
Indicates that flash flooding is possible in and close to the watch area. Those in the affected area are urged to be ready to take quick action if a flash flood warning is issued or flooding is observed.
- Flash Flood Warning
Signifies a dangerous situation where rapid flooding of small rivers, streams, creeks or urban areas is imminent or already occurring. Very heavy rain that falls in a short time period can lead to flash flooding, depending on local terrain, ground cover, degree of urbanization, degree of man-made changes to river banks, and initial ground or river conditions.
* Source: Wikipedia, Severe weather terminology.
For a comprehensive list of the types of warnings and advisories that may be issued and what they mean, Wikipedia has a nice list of them here.
The point to take home from this discussion is that when the National Weather Service issues warnings and watches, it is not a trivial matter. The weather can change very quickly, particularly here in Colorado, and we need to pay attention. In subsequent articles in this series we will talk about specific hazards like tornadoes, thunderstorms, lightning, flooding and more, so be sure to check back!
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National Weather Service Statement for Severe Weather Awareness Week
PUBLIC INFORMATION STATEMENT
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE PUEBLO COLORADO
600 AM MDT MON APR 15 2013
…UNDERSTANDING SEVERE WEATHER WATCHES AND WARNINGS…
The National Weather Service sees the potential for severe weather…and a stream of weather information flows from our forecast offices to you.
Each National Weather Service forecast office has a web site…a Facebook page…and a Twitter feed where you can find weather stories. These are graphical looks at upcoming weather hazards. The Hazardous Weather Outlook…a text product…is also available. It highlights weather hazards…sometimes seven days in advance.
The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma also forecasts the chance for severe weather across the country several days in advance. These outlooks will tell you if there is a chance for severe weather…and if you are in a slight risk…moderate risk…or high risk area for severe weather. http://www.spc.noaa.gov/
If severe weather becomes likely within six hours…a watch will be issued to alert you of the higher chance for severe weather in or close to the watch area. If you are in or close to the watch area…plan where you would go for shelter if severe weather was to occur. If high wind is a threat…tying down or bringing loose objects indoors is a good idea. If large hail is a threat… protecting your vehicle is a good idea.
Then…forecasters at the local National Weather Service office will monitor satellite and radar data…and talk with severe weather spotters. Forecasters will issue warnings and quickly send them out to alert you of the imminent severe weather threat. The warnings are sent out in many different ways in order to reach the most people possible.
A warning is an urgent message telling you that severe weather or flooding is imminent or is occurring. Warnings are usually issued for an area smaller than a county.
A Severe Thunderstorm Warning is issued for wind gusts of 58 mph or higher…or for hail one inch in diameter or greater.
A Tornado Warning is issued when tornados are imminent or occurring.
A Flash Flood Warning is issued for rapidly developing life threatening flooding.
Before and during severe weather…you can receive watches… warnings…and advisories on NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards. (http://www.nws.noaa.gov/nwr/) It is recommended that you buy a weather radio receiver with a built-in tone alarm…which is activated by the National Weather Service when watches and warnings are issued. You can also find warnings on the internet…or receive them from your local radio or television stations.
Do not be caught off guard. Know how to receive watch and warning information…and know what to do when severe weather threatens. Specific safety information will be available each day of this Colorado Severe Weather Awareness Week.