As the temperatures rise in springtime and summer, the chance of a severe storm rises as well. You've probably witnessed the tremendously destructive power of these storms. They can devastate neighborhoods, farms and urban areas in an instant.
While we can't avoid these forces of nature, we can prepare for them. With advancements in weather forecasting technology, meteorologists can predict severe thunderstorms, flooding events and tornadoes earlier and more accurately than ever before.
You've probably heard the terms storm watch and storm warning when you receive news of an upcoming weather event. The two messages sound similar, so you may have a few questions about how they differ. A few examples include:
- What is the difference between a storm watch and a storm warning?
- How do I get these messages?
- What do I need to do when I receive a storm watch vs. a storm warning?
- What should I have on hand in case of a severe storm?
- What role does my local electric cooperative play during severe storms?
Know what each message means and how you need to respond to keep yourself and your loved ones safe.
What Is a Storm Watch and What Actions Should I Take?
What Is a Storm Watch?
According to the National Weather Service, a storm watch means:
- There is a possibility of a severe storm, including thunderstorms, flash floods, tornadoes and other volatile weather.
- The forecasted storm poses a danger to life and property.
A storm watch area is larger than a storm warning area as forecasters focus on the storm's trajectory. The Storm Prediction Center issues storm watches.
What Should I Do If My County Is Under a Storm Watch?
Storm watches can range from four to eight hours in length. Make sure you have a plan in case the watch turns into a warning, which often can happen quickly.
Be Ready for the Watch to turn into a Warning
- Be weather-alert. Being weather-alert means checking the forecast regularly to plan for and avoid deteriorating weather conditions.
- Have a preparation list. Review your home and motor vehicle's inventory for storm essentials.
- Have an action plan. Once you have the necessary items, having an action plan is essential. A plan can help alleviate last-minute scrambling. Know where you're going to go if you're at home or work. If you're on the road, proceed carefully and be mindful of places to take shelter if needed.
Electrical Safety Considerations for a Storm Watch
Electrocution and other electrical injuries can occur during or after a severe weather event. If you have time, there are a few electrical safety actions you can take to stay safe:
- Unplug major appliances to avoid power surges.
- Charge or replace batteries in portable devices.
- Don't use any appliances, outlets or other electrical equipment that have been submerged in water.
- According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), one-third of all lightning-related injuries happen indoors. Refrain from using corded phones, large electronics or plumbing during thunderstorms.
- Remember, not all power strips are surge protectors. Check to make sure power strips are unplugged from the wall. Ordinary power strips won't protect you or your devices from a power surge.
How Is My Cooperative Involved?
If you experience a power outage, you can call, go online or use your electric cooperative’s mobile app to report your outage. Many electric cooperatives have a live outage map that will show where other member-owners have reported power outages. It's a smart idea to have your cooperative's contact information saved and to follow them on social media to receive outage updates.
Items to Have Before a Storm
While you don't need a massive stockpile of goods to get through a storm, a few items can help you if someone in your home sustains an injury or your power goes out. Some items include:
- Medical supplies for minor injuries like bandages, disinfectants or over-the-counter pain relievers.
- Bottled water.
- Non-perishable food items like cereal, canned goods, peanut butter, shelf-stable milk, etc.
- A flashlight and a battery-powered emergency radio.
- Extra disposable batteries and rechargeable battery banks for cell phones.
If you plan to run a portable generator, make sure it's in working condition and set up safely for use.
What Is a Storm Warning?
A storm warning or severe weather warning means a storm has been detected in the area. Warnings are serious as they indicate imminent danger to life and property. Warnings are reserved for smaller areas than storm watches and are issued by the local forecasting office.
If you get a storm warning for your area, you should seek shelter immediately.
Each type of storm warning requires a different response plan.
- Severe thunderstorm warning: Stay indoors or in an enclosed metal-topped vehicle to stay safe from lightning. Prepare for power outages. If possible, move or cover anything that could be damaged by hail.
- Tornado warning: Take shelter in a substantial structure. Move to an interior room on the lowest floor of the building. Avoid windows. A tornado shelter is ideal, but basements and interior bathrooms are usually the safest areas of the home. Tornadoes can wreak havoc on power lines and other electrical infrastructure, so look for downed power lines around your home once the storm clears.
- Flood warning: If your home is near a body of water or is prone to flooding, get to higher ground. Don’t drive over flooded roads.
Always be aware of your home's electrical equipment after a storm. Broken tree branches, downed power lines, flooding and lightning strikes can create electrical hazards. If you see downed powerlines or electrical equipment submerged in water, don't wait; contact your electric cooperative immediately.
Check out our safety pages to learn more about staying safe during a storm and how to respond after the storm has passed.