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The Difference Between Warning and Watch and Other Weather Terms to Know

If you’ve ever gotten the bejeezus scared out of you when your phone goes nuts with an emergency weather alert that you didn’t understand, then this list is for you.

emergency alert text

Let’s start with the basics:

Watches vs. Warnings

Watches are less intense than warnings. A watch means conditions are favorable for a weather incident to occur.

A warning means that weather incident is imminent or already occurring.

Examples of this are Thunderstorm Watch, Flash Flood Warning, Tornado Warning, etc.

What is a flash flood?

According to, flash floods happen after excessive and heavy rain, or something like a dam break.

They ‘often have a dangerous wall of roaring water carrying rocks, mud and other debris. It can also occur when rainfall or snowmelt exceeds the capacity of underground pipes, or the capacity of streets and drains designed to carry flood water away from urban areas.’

Flooding on Route 37 in Toms River
Flooding on Route 37 in Toms River (WABC TV via Facebook)

Those massive road ponds that seem to spring up out of nowhere during heavy rain? Flash flood.

What is a thunderstorm?
Lightning Pictures/Facebook

A thunderstorm is any storm that produces lightning (which in turn, produces thunder.) They become classified as severe thunderstorms when they produce winds over 58 mph, a tornado, or hail with a one-inch or larger diameter.

A thunderstorm without rain IS possible, but unlikely in New Jersey.

What is the difference between a tropical storm and a hurricane?

The easiest answer is that all hurricanes are tropical storms before (and sometimes after) they become known as hurricanes.

A tropical storm is a cyclone storm that forms over the tropics, with sustained winds of 39-73 mph. When the sustained winds in that storm exceed 74 mph, it becomes a hurricane.

Hurricane Irene

Hurricanes placed in categories from 1-5 based on wind speed: Category 1 is 74-95 mph, Category 2 is 96-110 mph, Category 3 is 111-129 mph, Category 4 is 130-156 mph, and Category 5 is 157+ mph.

Staying informed (and not panicking) is one of the best things we can all do when it comes to dangerous weather!

Are there weird weather terms you never understood? Tell us what they are in the comment section below!

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