What is a Severe Thunderstorm Watch?

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Severe thunderstorms are common in the Southeast U.S and Midwest. However, they can happen almost anywhere (even in unusual places, like Alaska). If weather conditions are favorable for severe thunderstorms, the National Weather Service issues a severe thunderstorm watch.

A severe thunderstorm watch is upgraded to a severe thunderstorm warning when severe weather is imminent. Read on to learn more about severe thunderstorms, severe thunderstorm warnings, and some severe thunderstorm safety tips.

What is a Severe Thunderstorm?

Severe thunderstorms are dangerous and capable of causing bodily harm. The possibility of a tornado is also greater in severe thunderstorms. For a thunderstorm to be considered severe, one or more of the following weather conditions must be present:

  • Hail one inch or greater
  • Winds of 58mph or higher

The severity of a thunderstorm increases when these weather conditions occur in combination. According to the National Weather Service, the atmospheric ingredients necessary for a severe thunderstorm include:

  • Moisture
  • Instability
  • Lifting
  • Wind shear

A key difference between a thunderstorm and a severe thunderstorm is that the latter requires wind shear, whereas the former does not. This explains why strong winds or tornadoes often accompany severe thunderstorms.

severe thunderstorm large hailPhoto: Dan Ross - stock.adobe.com
In the strongest thunderstorms, hail can reach the size of baseballs.

What is a Severe Thunderstorm Watch?

A severe thunderstorm watch is issued when weather conditions are favorable for a severe thunderstorm. Severe thunderstorm watches means a severe thunderstorm is possible.

As previously stated, severe thunderstorms watches can be upgraded to severe thunderstorm warnings, but only if a thunderstorm is occurring or imminent. Keep reading to learn more about severe thunderstorm warnings.

What is a Severe Thunderstorm Warning?

The National Weather Service issues a severe thunderstorm warning when a severe thunderstorm is occurring or imminent in an area. Since severe thunderstorms produce hail or powerful winds, it is important to seek shelter immediately to avoid injury and wait until the thunderstorm passes.

Severe thunderstorm warnings require immediate action and can be stressful if unprepared. Read on to learn about some severe safety tips you can use to prepare.

What Does ‘This is a Particularly Dangerous Situation’ Mean?

Occasionally, a severe thunderstorm watch or warning will include the phrase ‘this is a particularly dangerous situation.’ Although more common with tornado watches and warnings, the term conveys an enhanced risk of significant severe weather.

There is an enhanced risk for strong and damaging winds and huge hail when this phrase is found in a severe thunderstorm watch or warning. If it is issued with a warning, take shelter immediately.

severe thunderstorm with lightningPhoto: Laura Hedien - stock.adobe.com

Severe Weather Safety Tips

Preparing for severe weather is crucial for reducing their destructive potential. Follow these safety tips during severe thunderstorms:

  • Seek shelter and wait. Severe thunderstorms can produce damaging hail, strong winds and often precede tornadoes. If a severe thunderstorm warning is issued, then seek shelter and wait for the thunderstorm to pass. Basements or other heavily walled-off spaces are the best choices, especially when a tornado may be possible. If you have time to prepare, move your vehicle(s) to an enclosed building.
  • Stay informed and monitor the situation carefully. Checking weather forecasts with a mobile device or weather radio is essential for staying informed about developing weather conditions. A severe thunderstorm warning also contains information on potential hail size and wind speeds.
  • Keep a safe distance from windows and electrical equipment. Hail carried by strong winds can shatter windows and cause injury, so stay away from windows, electrical equipment, and loose objects.

Aside from seeking shelter, the best defense against severe weather is access to information. Weather radios are excellent devices for staying up to date on the latest weather forecasts.

As one of the best weather radios available, the Midland WR300 keeps you informed with SAME and non-weather alerts using a large, easy-to-read display.

Wrapping Up

Although severe thunderstorms are dangerous, you can take steps to prepare to stay out of harm’s way. After a severe thunderstorm watch or warning is issued, you can easily stay updated on the latest weather forecasts using a weather radio. When in doubt, seek shelter and wait for a thunderstorm to pass.

Johnathan is The Weather Station Experts' resident "explainer in chief," writing many of our educational and how-to articles. He has been freelance writing for the past two years, specializing in digital marketing and general marketing tips.

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Don't miss a thing from The Weather Station Experts. Be the first to know about sales and limited-time deals. Unsubscribe at any time.