Hurricane warning vs. watch: How are they different?

Turks and Caicos, parts of the Dominican Republic, and the southeastern Bahamas are under a hurricane warning as Hurricane Maria continues to rage in the Caribbean. 

When the threat of a hurricane looms, it’s important for residents to know if hurricane warnings or watches have been issued for the areas they live in -- as well as what the two terms indicate.

What’s the difference?

Hurricane warnings and watches have slightly different meanings concerning “hurricane conditions,” or sustained winds of 74 mph or above, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Ocean Service (NOS) says.

“A warning means that hurricane conditions are expected whereas a watch means that conditions are possible,” the office explains.

When are hurricane warnings and watches issued?

Hurricane warnings and watches are issued 36 hours and 48 hours, respectively, before tropical-storm-force winds may strike, according to the NOS.

“Because hurricane preparedness activities become difficult once winds reach tropical storm force (sustained winds of 39 to 73 mph), the hurricane warning is issued 36 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical-storm-force winds to allow for important preparation,” it says.

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What does it mean when tropical storm warnings and watches are issued for areas?

Warnings mean tropical storm conditions are “expected,” while tropical storm watches indicate that they’re “possible,” the National Weather Service (NWS) says online.  

What else should I know about weather warnings?

“During a weather warning, it is important to take action: grab the emergency kit you have prepared in advance and head to safety immediately,” the NWS advises, adding that “warnings are more urgent” than watches.

Fox News' Travis Fedschun and The Associated Press contributed to this report.