what is worse watch or warning

What is worse watch or warning? Tornadoes can hurt you in more ways than you can imagine, so it is better to stay vigilant.

That is why you have to pay attention to the latest tornado updates. However, you will hear those updates divided into a watch and a warning.

But, what is worse a tornado watch or warning? How should we react to both? Let’s find out now!

A warning is worse than a watch because a local National Weather Service issues it and is usually valid for a very short time. 

The Importance of Keeping Updated about Tornadoes

the importance of keeping updated about tornadoes

Tornadoes are so intimidating and totally capable of causing extensive destruction to property and posing a significant threat to human lives.

Meteorologists rely on two main alerts to inform the public about the potential danger of tornadoes:

  • Tornado watches
  • Tornado warnings

Although both alerts suggest the potential for tornadoes, they vary greatly based on their:

  • Interpretations
  • Timeframes
  • Levels of importance

People and communities must grasp the differences between a tornado watch and a warning to respond appropriately and take the necessary precautions. 

Tornado Watch: What It Truly Means?

tornado watch what it truly means

Tornado watches are essential for ensuring tornado readiness and the safety of the public.

Tornado watches are issued after a thorough examination of meteorological data, which takes into account factors such as:

  • Temperature
  • Humidity
  • Wind patterns

These factors contribute to the ideal conditions for tornadoes to form. 

An Example to Consider

During the infamous 2011 Super Outbreak, meteorologists issued a colossal tornado watch.

The watch spanned 26 states and resulted in a staggering 360 tornadoes within a mere three days, tragically claiming 321 lives.

Fact: The NOAA reports that around 1,000 tornadoes take place in the United States annually. They cause multiple injuries and substantial property destruction. 

Tornado Warning: What It Truly Signifies?

tornado warning what it truly signifies

A tornado warning is an urgent and time-critical notification. It is usually issued when:

  • A tornado has been verified on the ground
  • A tornado has been identified by advanced weather radar technology

In contrast to tornado watches, warnings are tailored to more localized regions, frequently encompassing just one county or a fraction of it.

Here is a bit more about how frequent tornado warnings have been in different parts of the United States from 2012 to 2021:

Norman, OK9,103
Jackson, MS7,639
Little Rock, AR6,060
Atlanta, GA6,057
Memphis, TN5,332
Fort Worth, TX5,280

Typically, these warnings only stick around for a brief period, usually lasting between 30 minutes to an hour. 

An Example to Consider

The devastating Joplin tornado in 2011 is a good example of tornado warnings.

The National Weather Service issued a warning a mere 24 minutes before the tornado hit, emphasizing the crucial need for swift and resolute action when faced with such alerts.

Fact: The Joplin tornado was an EF5 tornado, which claimed over 161 lives and led to over 1,300 injuries. 

What is Worse Watch or Warning?

watch or warning what's worse

Okay, you may have gathered the fact that there are subtle differences between both warnings and watches. But, What is worse a watch or warning?

The truth is that a warning is much more serious than a watch. When a tornado warning is issued, it implies that you need to take action in minutes. 

Why a Tornado Warning is Worse than a Tornado Watch?

While both tornado watches and warnings signal the potential occurrence of tornadoes, the warning is considerably more severe than the watch for the following reasons: 

Imminent Danger

imminent danger

A tornado warning is a prompt and pressing notification given when a tornado has been visually sighted or detected by radar.

This urgent alert indicates that the tornado is currently happening and poses a serious danger to people and their belongings.

In order to ensure their safety and well-being, individuals must act quickly to find shelter and stay updated on the tornado’s trajectory

Limited Duration

limited duration

Tornado warnings typically last for a limited period, typically ranging from 30 minutes to an hour.

The limited time frame intensifies the sense of urgency, necessitating prompt action from individuals.

Seeking refuge is crucial, as tornadoes have the potential to strike unexpectedly.

Fact: Even after a warning, it is important to stay updated on the tornado's trajectory and receive the latest information from weather authorities.   

Localized Impact

localized impact

Tornado warnings usually focus on specific areas, often limited to a single county or a part of it.

The impact in this specific area raises the chances of significant damage and the potential for loss of life within the zone that has been alerted.

Although tornadoes can cause significant destruction, the targeted nature of warnings enables authorities to quickly allocate resources and emergency services to the impacted region

Urgent Response

urgent response

When a tornado warning is issued, authorities and emergency services swiftly come together to take immediate action and ensure the safety of the public.

Taking immediate action can profoundly impact saving lives and reducing property damage.

Emergency responders spring into action by:

  • Dispatching search and rescue teams
  • Establishing emergency shelters
  • Redirecting traffic away from hazardous areas

Moreover, they collaborate closely with meteorological organizations to deliver up-to-the-minute updates and vital information to the general public.  

Fact: Data shows that more than 70% of tornado warnings lead to an actual tornado. 

What are the Implications of a Tornado Watch?

implications of a tornado watch

If you have noticed a tornado watch, it is important to understand exactly what it implies.

For instance: 

Heightened Awareness

When a tornado watch is announced, it is crucial to increase public awareness, especially for those residing in the areas that may be impacted.

You have to stay in the loop, so make sure to trust reliable sources like the National Weather Service and local news channels for weather updates.

heightened awareness

Recognizing the importance of a tornado watch inspires individuals to:

  • Revisit their emergency plans
  • Pinpoint secure shelters
  • Assemble emergency kits 

Preparing Emergency Kits

When there is a tornado watch, it is essential to gather or inspect emergency supply kits.

preparing emergency kits

It is important for these kits to have all the must-haves, such as:

  • Non-perishable food
  • Plenty of water
  • Flashlights with spare batteries
  • A first-aid kit
  • Medications

By having these supplies ready, people and families can be fully equipped to handle a tornado warning. 

What are the Implications of a Tornado Warning?

implications of a tornado warning

Unlike tornado watches, tornado warnings are much more serious and require you to take immediate action.

Here is more about what they imply: 

Immediate Action Needed

A tornado warning is way more serious than a tornado watch because it means there is a confirmed tornado sighting or a highly probable tornado based on radar evidence.

This indicates a pressing danger to both life and property. It is crucial for individuals to act promptly and find a secure place to take shelter without any delay.

The need for immediate action during a tornado warning highlights the significance of being ready, staying updated, and responding quickly to ensure personal well-being in the face of a tornado occurrence. 

Seek Shelter

seek shelter

When a tornado warning is given, it is crucial to act quickly and seek shelter.

You have the choice of utilizing places like:

  • Basements
  • Storm cellars
  • Interior rooms located on the lowest level of a sturdy building

Taking this precautionary measure helps safeguard against airborne debris and strong gusts

Stay Informed

stay informed

Staying updated on the tornado’s status is crucial once you have taken shelter during a tornado warning.

Getting weather updates, particularly from a weather radio powered by batteries, offers up-to-the-minute details about the path and strength of a tornado.

This guarantees that people remain in their secure location until it is considered safe to leave.   

Ready-to-Go Kits

Unlike watches where you should prepare a kit, a warning is usually the signal that you should grab one and leave.

Owning pre-assembled emergency kits is incredibly valuable when faced with a tornado warning.

ready-to-go kits

When tornado warnings are issued, there is very little time to gather necessary supplies.

By having these items easily accessible, it ensures that people and families can quickly obtain essential resources when leaving.

Fact: In 2011, the lead time for tornado warnings was no more than 13 minutes, but it has decreased to 8.4 minutes now. 


What is worse watch or warning? Although both tornado watches and warnings are important for tornado preparedness, a tornado warning is considerably more severe than a tornado watch.

This is because it requires immediate action, has a shorter duration, affects a specific area, and demands an urgent response.

Whatever the case, be sure to keep up to date with reliable sources and have an emergency plan in place.