If you live here in Tornado Alley, it is expected that you know the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning. Surprisingly a lot of people don’t know the difference. If you are one of those who don’t know, or have a hard time remembering which is which, we are here to help you remember. It is important that you know the difference.
The graphic above has an eloquent way of explaining things, doesn't it?
In the United States, tornado watches are issued by the Storm Prediction Center located in Norman, Oklahoma- right in the heart of Tornado Alley. As you now know, a tornado watch is issued when the weather conditions appear favorable for the development of severe thunderstorms which may produce tornadoes. A tornado watch box is a polygon typically spanning a large area around 25,000 square miles. A tornado watch typically lasts around 6 hours. Even when tornadoes do strike, most people in the watch area will not experience the worst weather, and many times they don’t even experience thunderstorms.
Tornado warnings are issued by your local National Weather Service. Meteorologists monitor weather radar while storm chasers and spotters are out in the field reporting what the storm(s) look like and where they are located. This information is also broadcast by your local TV stations. Warnings are issued over a much smaller area, typically about the size of a small county. Often times, a severe thunderstorm warning will be in effect and will be upgraded to a tornado warning as the storm begins to produce a tornado. Tornadoes do change direction, so if you are not directly in the tornado warning but in close proximity, it would be wise to take precautionary measures anyway.