Hurricane warning vs. watch: How are they different?

Imagine your neighborhood is placed under a hurricane watch.

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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. Read on for a look at the two terms. 

‘Hurricane conditions’

Hurricane warnings and watches have different meanings slightly concerning “hurricane conditions,” or sustained winds that hit 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.

What else should I know? 

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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,” the group says.

The office shares a message when a warning is underway. 

“During a hurricane warning, complete storm preparations and immediately leave the threatened area if directed by local officials,” the NOS adds. 

Hurricane warnings also can be in effect for other reasons. 

“The warning can remain in effect when dangerously high water or a combination of dangerously high water and waves continue, even though winds may be less than hurricane force,” the National Weather Service says online

What about tropical storm warnings vs. watches? 

When a warning is issued, that means “tropical storm conditions are expected somewhere within the specified coastal area within 36 hours,” according to the NWS.  

The agency says that a watch, however, indicates that the conditions ”are possible within the specified coastal area within 48 hours.”