Every month I have an emergency preparedness article in the local newspaper (ChevyChase.Patch.com). Here’s the link to my June article. I’ve also copied it below:

When seconds count, knowing the difference between a watch or a warning can save your life!

 “TORNADO WARNING now in affect for Montgomery County. Residents should seek safe shelter. THIS IS A DANGEROUS AND POSSIBLY LIFE THREATENING SITUATION.” This message was sent last night due to severe thunderstorms capable of producing tornadoes in Chevy Chase.

While the message certainly sounds urgent, most folks still struggle with the differences between watches, warnings, and advisories. However, for an emergency notification to be effective, it must be comprehended.

Below are short descriptions of notifications. Parents might consider teaching their children what these different notifications mean as well. In addition to my descriptions below, the National Weather Service (NWS) has a simple website for explaining each type of notification.

  • Advisories: This type of notification is the least urgent and may occur long before a storm hits. While less urgent than a warning, advisories are still helpful and everyone should pay attention when advisories are distributed.


  • Watch: A watch is a notification for when the risk of hazardous weather or flooding has increased significantly, but its occurrence, location or timing is still uncertain. An easy way to think about this notification is to simply think of a wristwatch–signifying that you still have time before the storm or flooding arrives.


  • Warning: A warning is the most severe and urgent. It is issued when hazardous weather or flood is occurring, imminent or likely. A warning means weather conditions pose a threat to life or property. People in the path of the storm need to take protective action.

Hopefully this primer helps prepare you and your family the next time you hear a weather or flood advisory, watch, or warning.

Todd Jasper is a federal emergency manager and has been happy to call Chevy Chase home since 2008. His emergency management blog is www.toddjasper.com.