From outlooks to watches and warnings: Do you know what to do when the alerts are issued?


For the past few days, we've been showing this area of enhanced risk over much of the southeast including the Tennessee Valley. Here's what this means.

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Outlooks are issued anywhere from one to even eight days in advance by the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma. The idea is to give a likelihood of whether or not severe weather would occur in an area. You'll hear terms like slight, enhanced, moderate and even high risk, but these outlooks are not immediate -- they just mean to be aware of the possibility for severe weather on that particular day.

Fast forward to the day in question -- that is when a watch is likely issued. You see it here, outlined in red for a tornado watch over the Mississippi River Valley.

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Watches are issued hours in advance, and they can cover weather hazards like flooding, severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. Watches mean that conditions are favorable for severe weather to occur. Think of a watch as your cue to "get ready": Gather your emergency supplies and know where you need to go in case the weather gets worse.

Once storms really get into gear and start showing signs of being severe -- or even capable of producing a tornado -- then a warning is issued by the local national weather service.

what-is-a-warning-explainer

Warnings are issued as far as 20 minutes in advance, though usually 10 to 15 minutes. A warning means that the severe weather is about to occur or is already happening. This is the most serious alert you can receive. If you are in a severe thunderstorm or tornado warning, you need to get to safety immediately, and stay there until the warning expires or the storm has passed.

Make sure you have at least three different ways to receive these alerts. We recommend staying tuned to WHNT News 19, but if you are at the office or on the go, our Live Alert 19 app will alert you to what is happening where you are, and it's always a good idea to have a weather radio nearby, just in case.

(MORE: Why it's important to have multiple sources of weather information)

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