Severe Weather Awareness Week - Alert Terminology

Prepare for Wisconsin’s severe weather season with the NBC15 First Alert Weather Team.
Severe Weather Awareness Week: Alerts
Published: Apr. 4, 2022 at 9:42 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 4, 2022 at 10:04 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - With severe weather season right around the corner, it is important to brush up on the alerts that may be issued across southern Wisconsin. The Storm Prediction Center (SPC) in Norman, Oklahoma issues Severe Thunderstorm and Tornado Watches. Warnings and Advisories are issued by individual National Weather Service offices. The NWS Milwaukee/Sullivan office as well as the NWS La Crosse office serve the NBC15 viewing area.

A Severe Thunderstorm is any thunderstorm that is producing winds in excess of 58mph, hail of 1″ or greater diameter, and/or a tornado. Watches & Warnings can be issued for these as well as Tornadoes. A tornado is defined as a rapidly rotating column of air, extending from the base of a thunderstorm that is in contact with the ground. Funnel clouds are often mistaken for tornadoes.


If an Advisory is issued, it means a hazardous weather situation is ongoing or expected soon. These typically indicate more of an inconvenience than a life threatening situation. You still need to use caution to avoid danger to life and property. The most typical advisory is a flood advisory. Advisories can be issued for and entire county or just parts, as it is impact based.


A Watch is issued when conditions are favorable for dangerous weather to develop. They are typically issued well in advance, perhaps several hours, of severe weather happening. The exact location and timing is unknown, but remains possible in and near the watch. Because of this, watches tend to cover a large area and can include many states at once. When a watch is issued, have a plan and be ready to take action if necessary.


When a warning is issued, it means severe weather is occurring, imminent, or likely. You need to immediately evaluate the situation and put your severe weather plan into action to avoid harm to life or property. A warning will include the area impacted by a storm and typically covers just part of a county.


Knowing where you are located is a critical element in your severe weather plan to stay safe. It may sound trivial, but many people don’t know what county or area they live in or surrounding areas. Brushing up on counties and towns near you can prove vital when severe weather information is being relayed. It is also important when traveling to have a basic understanding of your surroundings should impactful weather move in your direction.

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