Extreme Weather: Severe Thunderstorms

Differences between watches and warnings

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Part 2 of a 5-part series

FRANKLIN COUNTY — Its Severe Weather Awareness Week in Pennsylvania and the National Weather Service wants to educate the public about different aspects of the term “severe” when it comes to weather.

NWS’ topic today is severe thunderstorms.

What’s the difference between a severe thunderstorm watch and a severe thunderstorm warning.

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A thunderstorm is considered severe if it produces wind gusts of at least 58 miles an hour. It can also produce hail an inch in diameter or larger. Or about the size of a quarter.

Severe thunderstorms are often accompanied by torrential downpours and frequent lightning.

They can also produce brief, weak tornadoes. Damage from strong wind gusts can be just as bad as damage made by a tornado. They are much more common than tornadoes, however.

What Is a Severe Thunderstorm Watch?

A severe thunderstorm watch alerts you that thunderstorms with damaging winds and large hail are expected to develop close to your location.

A watch by itself does not mean that severe weather is actually occurring yet. It just means severe weather is expected to happen close by.

A watch usually covers an area as large as a state. It is in effect for several hours, expiring only when the thunderstorms are expected to end.

Here’s what you should you do when a Severe Thunderstorm Watch is issued:

  • Go about your normal activities, but watch the sky around you for developing storms.
  • Periodically check NOAA Weather Radio or other media outlets for forecast updates and possible warnings.
  • Know which county you live in, and which ones border your community. Think of a safe place to be and plan a route which you can use to get that safe place quickly.

What is a Severe Thunderstorm Warning?

Water may sweep  your vehicle away if you attempt to drive through it.
Flooding at Norlo Park in Fayetteville last weekend. (Courtesy Donna Reath)

A warning means a severe thunderstorm is occurring and is going to move through your location soon.

It is your signal that you will need to take quick action to protect your life and property.

Severe Thunderstorm Warnings are issued by the National Weather Service when meteorologists detect a severe thunderstorm using Doppler radar or when damage has been reported by trained Skywarn weather spotters.

Typically, a Severe Thunderstorm Warning will be issued for an area as big as a county or two, and for a period of up to one hour.

In the text of the warning statement, NWS tries to make a specific list of towns that are likely to be in the path of the storm.

You should listen to hear if communities or landmarks near you are mentioned in the warning.

What should you do when a Severe Thunderstorm Warning is issued for your location?

  • If you are outdoors, get inside your home, a strong building, or in your car.
  • Boaters should head to shore immediately.
  • When indoors, go to an interior room on the lowest level. Stay away from windows and exterior doors.
  • Do not use electrical appliances and avoid using the telephone, as lightning can travel through electrical and telephone lines.

Flooding Can Happen Quickly

Heavy rain falling from any thunderstorm can flood  roads quickly
Flooding at Norlo Park in Fayetteville last weekend following severe thunderstorms. (Courtesy Donna Reath)

If you are driving, safely pull over to the side of the road until the storm passes.

Heavy rain falling from any thunderstorm can flood roads quickly, so never try to drive through an area where water covers the road, even if you think it is shallow.

Water may sweep your vehicle away if you attempt to drive through it.

For additional thunderstorm and severe weather safety information check out our web page at: www.weather.gov/statecollege

Tomorrow’s topic is flash flooding and how to stay safe if you are caught in a flash flood.

5 Part Series

Part 4 Flood Waters | Published April 25, 2019
Part 3 Flash Flooding | April 24, 2019
Part 1 Tornadoes | Published Apr 22, 2019
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