When severe weather conditions are forecast, it’s important to know the terminology that will be used to describe them. Here’s a quick guide to some of the most common terms.
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Severe Weather Terms
The National Weather Service (NWS) issues various severe weather warnings and advisories to alert the public of potentially dangerous conditions. The following is a list of some of the most common terms used by the NWS to describe severe weather conditions:
Tornado Warning: A tornado warning is issued when a tornado is imminent or has been sighted in the area. If you are in a Tornado Warning area, take shelter immediately and stay put until the storm has passed.
Severe Thunderstorm Warning: A severe thunderstorm warning is issued when severe thunderstorms are imminent or have been sighted in the area. Severe thunderstorms can produce damaging winds, large hail, and tornadoes. If you are in a Severe Thunderstorm Warning area, take shelter immediately and stay tuned to your local news or weather radio station for updates.
Flood Warning: A flood warning is issued when flooding is imminent or has been reported in the area. If you are in a Flood Warning area, take immediate steps to protect yourself and your property from flooding.
Flash Flood Warning: A flash flood warning is issued when flash flooding is imminent or has been reported in the area. Flash floods can occur with little or no warning, so if you are in a Flash Flood Warning area, take immediate steps to protect yourself and your property from flooding.
Winter Storm Warning: A winter storm warning is issued when a winter storm is expected to bring significant amounts of snow, ice, or sleet to the area. If you are in a Winter Storm Warning area, take steps to protect yourself from exposure cold weather and be prepared for winter driving conditions.
What do they mean?
There are a few terms that you may hear used to describe severe weather conditions. Here is a brief explanation of each:
Tornado Watch – This means that conditions are favorable for the development of tornadoes. You should remain alert and be prepared to take shelter if a tornado warning is issued.
Tornado Warning – This means that a tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. You should take shelter immediately.
Severe Thunderstorm Watch – This means that conditions are favorable for the development of severe thunderstorms. You should remain alert and be prepared to take shelter if a severe thunderstorm warning is issued.
Severe Thunderstorm Warning – This means that a severe thunderstorm has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. You should take shelter immediately.
Flash Flood Watch – This means that conditions are favorable for the development of flash flooding. You should remain alert and be prepared to take action if a flash flood warning is issued
Types of Severe Weather
There are four main types of severe weather: thunderstorms, hail, hurricanes, and tornadoes. Each type of severe weather has its own unique characteristics.
Thunderstorms are storms that produce thunder and lightning. They usually last for a short period of time and can occur anywhere in the world. Hail is a form of precipitation that falls from the sky during a thunderstorm. It is usually small and ice-cold. Hurricanes are tropical storms that can cause damage to coastal areas. They typically occur in the Atlantic Ocean near North America. Tornadoes are rotating columns of air that touch the ground. They can occur anywhere in the world but are most common in the United States.
A winter storm is an event in which the dominant varieties of precipitation are forms that only occur at cold temperatures, such as snow, sleet, and ice. In temperate continental climates, these storms are typically synoptic-scale events occurring between surface cyclones and anticyclones. Within the United States, a winter storm occurs when the conditions for a traditional snowfall are met—snow falling and accumulating on the ground—and the temperature at ground level is cold enough that any liquid precipitation that falls to the ground will freeze into ice. Winter storms tend to cause disruptions to public transportation services and public utilities such as electricity and natural gas service. Severe winter storms can also cause widespread property damage due to the weight of snow and ice accruing on rooftops.
A blizzard is a severe weather condition characterized by strong winds, heavy snowfall, and low temperatures.
Ice storms are one of the most dangerous types of severe weather conditions. They occur when freezing rain or drizzle falls and coats surfaces with a layer of ice. This can make roads and walking surfaces very slippery and dangerous. Ice storms can also cause power outages and damage to trees and power lines.
Wind chill is the temperature it “feels like” outside when the air temperature and wind speed are combined. A high wind can make it feel much colder than it actually is. The wind chill temperature is always lower than the actual air temperature and is affected by both wind speed and air temperature.
Extreme cold is a term used to describe severe weather conditions that are characterized by extremely low temperatures. These conditions can pose a significant risk to human health, especially if people are exposed to them for extended periods of time. Some of the health risks associated with extreme cold include frostbite and hypothermia.
Flash floods are rapidly rising waters that inundate an area with little or no warning. A flash flood can occur within a few minutes or hours of excessive rainfall, dam or levee failure, or rapid melting of ice and snow. Flash floods often have a destructive potential due to the speed at which they can develop and the fact that they can bring large amounts of debris with them as they move.
A tornado is a violently rotating column of air that extends from a thunderstorm to the ground. The most violent tornadoes are capable of causing catastrophic damage with wind speeds of up to 300 mph. They can destroy buildings, uproot trees, and cause severe injuries and fatalities. A tornado’s path can be swirled one mile or more in diameter and 50 miles or more in length.