We've always been told the difference between a weather watch and a warning, but lately it seems like things have changed a bit. So just when exactly does the weather service issue a tornado warning?


I've been on the radio for over 25 years now and have broadcast a lot of severe weather watches and warnings. The rule of thumb used to be that a watch was issued when conditions were favorable for the development of severe storms.

A warning was issued only when there was an actual storm bearing down on your area. For instance, a tornado warning would only be issued when weather spotters on the ground confirmed an actual twister in the area.

Now, though, with the advancement in Doppler radar, forecasters are able to detect updraft rotations, which typically spawn tornadoes, before one is spotted. And often times, a tornado warning is then issued-- even though there hasn't been an actual funnel cloud sighted or confirmed by spotters.

I asked Weather Eye meteorologist Megan Mulford about this policy change in issuing warnings, and the reason behind it is it's just what I expected: the weather service believes it's better to be safe than sorry. Meaning, it's better to issue the warning without a confirmed tornado than to wait (and possibly have less time to move to safety) for an actual tornado to be spotted on the ground.

It makes sense, I guess, but it still seems a little like crying wolf to me. Now, you see tornado warnings issued much more frequently -- like Wednesday night -- even though there wasn't an actual tornado. Which, to me, kinda lessens the effectiveness of the warning in the first place.

Before, when you heard a tornado warning issued, you KNEW you'd better take cover NOW, because you KNEW confirmed tornado had been spotted somewhere. (In fact, I still freak out when I see those two words together.)

Now, though, it doesn't seem quite the same. And even though it's supposed to make things better, I don't know that it did. What do you think?


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