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A severe storm warning is issued when hazardous weather is occurring, is about to occur or is likely to occur. A severe weather watch gives advanced notice that conditions are favorable for the development of severe weather.

Q: What is the difference between a severe weather warning and a severe weather watch?

A: The difference is that a severe weather watch is issued to give an advanced notice that atmospheric conditions are favorable for the development of severe weather while a warning is issued when hazardous weather is occurring, is about to occur or has a very high probability of occurring.

A warning indicates that conditions pose a threat to life or property and people in the area of the warning should take appropriate action to protect themselves. A watch is intended to provide people with enough time to set safety plans in motion for possible hazardous weather.

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Watches and warnings outline areas where the weather may occur. Pinpointing the location of hazardous weather in advance is extremely difficult. For this reason, watches are usually issued for large regions, sometimes covering several states. Warnings are issued for much smaller areas, often only a county or two, because they are based on actual observations of hazardous weather.

The National Weather Service issues weather watches and warnings under specific weather conditions. For example, a severe thunderstorm watch means that conditions are favorable for the development of severe thunderstorms in and close to the watch area. A warning means that a severe thunderstorm has been sighted visually or indicated by radar and is producing hail three-quarters of an inch or larger in diameter and/or winds equal to or exceeding 58 mph.

You can receive these warnings and watches from various sources including: NOAA Weather Radio, commercial TV and radio, outdoor warning systems, cell phone applications and text messaging services. It is a good idea to remain weather-aware and actively listen for watches and warnings.

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"Weather Guys" Steve Ackerman and Jonathan Martin are professors in the University of Wisconsin-Madison department of atmospheric and oceanic sciences.

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