Decoding Severe Weather Alerts (& What to Prepare for)

Nov 15, 2022 3 min read

When it comes to severe weather and the destruction it can cause, knowledge and preparation are key. Knowing the meaning of essential weather terms and being able to distinguish between a watch, a warning and an advisory can make all the difference in keeping your family and home safe. Read on to learn the definitions of important severe weather alerts.

Watch vs. Warning vs. Advisory: What’s the Difference?

This minor change in language can have major implications for what course of action you may need to take to stay safe:

A watch is used when the risk of a hazardous weather or hydrologic event has increased significantly, but its occurrence, location or timing is still uncertain. It is intended to provide enough lead time so those who need to set their plans in motion can do so. A watch means that hazardous weather is possible. People should have a plan of action in case a storm threatens and they should listen for later information and possible warnings especially when planning travel or outdoor activities.

An advisory is issued when a hazardous weather or hydrologic event is occurring, imminent or likely. Advisories are for less serious conditions than warnings, that cause significant inconvenience and if caution is not exercised, could lead to situations that may threaten life or property.

A warning is issued when a hazardous weather or hydrologic event is occurring, imminent or likely. A warning means weather conditions pose a threat to life or property. People in the path of the storm need to take protective action.

Common Winter Weather Terms and What They Mean

If you live in a state that gets snow and ice, you know that a snowstorm can put a damper on travel plans, even if your “plan” only involves driving to work. Understanding the various terms can help you plan accordingly:

  • Winter Weather Watch. Be prepared for snow, sleet or ice, because the conditions are present in the atmosphere for winter weather, but it likely hasn’t started yet.
  • Winter Weather Advisory. When you hear the term “advisory” it means that winter weather is fast approaching your area, but it hasn’t started yet. In the case of a winter weather advisory, you will likely see light snow, some blowing, and possibly slick conditions (caused by snow blowing over the roads).
  • Winter Weather Warning. If forecasters are using the term “warning” they are confident that you will experience a winter storm with heavy snow, sleet or freezing rain, which will cause impacts to your travel.
  • Freezing Rain. This is the term used when the rain the freezes upon hitting the ground. The air may be warm enough that rain falls in liquid form, but the ground is cold enough that it will freeze water droplets when they hit the ground. As you can imagine, freezing rain creates slick driving conditions for travelers.
  • Sleet. Sleet is a mixture of rain, snow, ice pellets or hail. Generally, when you have sleet, air temperatures are as cold as the ground temperatures, so moisture freezes as it falls.
  • Wind Chill. The wind chill is based on how fast people lose heat based on the heat loss from exposed skin. (The higher the wind, the faster you will lose heat during already cold conditions).
  • Blizzard. A blizzard causes reduced visibility because strong winds (35 mph or more) are blowing either falling snow or snow that is already on the ground. Many people associate severe temperatures with blizzards, but extreme cold isn’t necessarily a quality required for a blizzard.

Other Severe Weather Alerts You Should Know

Severe Thunderstorm Watch: There's the potential for severe thunderstorms to develop. Be ready to act if a warning is issued.

Severe Thunderstorm Warning: This indicates imminent danger to life and property, and includes potential for large hail, lightning, damaging winds, flash flooding and tornadoes.

Tornado Watch: Weather conditions are capable of producing tornadoes.

Tornado Warning: A tornado is sighted or indicated by radar. Seek shelter immediately.

Flash Flood Watch: Conditions are probable for flash flooding or flooding within the watch area. Stay alert.

Flash Flood Warning: A flash flood is imminent or occurring. A flash flood can only take a few minutes to develop.

Fire Weather Watch: Conditions may result in either numerous fires or extreme fire behavior within the next 24 to 72 hours.

Red Flag Warning: Fire conditions are ongoing or expected to occur within the next 24 hours.

Are Your Protected from Severe Weather?

If severe weather strikes your farm or ranch, having the right coverage can make a big difference. To help ensure your property has the coverage you need to get right back on your feet, talk to a Farm Bureau agent today.

Want to learn more?

Contact a local FBFS agent or advisor for answers personalized to you.

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