Hurricane Watches and Warnings

Knowing the difference can save your life!

Palm trees blowing in a heavy storm.
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When tropical storm season strikes in South Florida, the media bombards us with dramatic accounts of each storm that threatens our coast. You’ll hear alarmist pronouncements about hurricane watches and warnings being posted for different parts of our region, but do you really understand the difference?

What is a Hurricane Watch?

The National Weather Service declares a hurricane watch for a region when Hurricane force winds (sustained winds in excess of 74 miles per hour) are possible in the area within the next 48 hours. Due to the unpredictable nature of tropical storms, hurricane watches are not issued more than two days in advance.

What is a Hurricane Warning?

The National Weather Service issues hurricane warnings when hurricane-force winds are expected in the area within the next 36 hours. This is an increased state of alert, as it indicates the forecasters are more certain of the hurricane’s landfall.

What is the Difference Between a Watch and a Warning?

It all comes down to the probabilities and timing. The forecasters at the National Weather Service issue watches as a sort of “get ready” call. When you hear that they’ve issued a warning, that means that they really believe the storm is going to hit a region and soon.

What Should I Do When There’s a Hurricane Watch?

Your precise activities will depend upon your state of readiness. When you hear a hurricane watch is coming, it is a good time to check your supplies. Make sure you have sufficient food and water on hand to weather a storm. In fact, you should try to do this at the beginning of every hurricane season. As soon as a watch is issued, there will be a mad rush on the stores and supplies will sell out quickly.

Also, check your home for anything that might be damaged in a storm. Clean up any debris or lawn furniture in your yard that might become an airborne missile and damage your home. If you have accordion-style hurricane shutters, test them and make sure they move properly. If you have the aluminum style that takes a long time to mount, check to make sure you have all the parts labeled and available.

You should also run a few errands at this point. Stop at the ATM and withdraw plenty of cash. In the aftermath of a storm, you can’t count on access to the ATM network. It’s a good idea to have $500-$1,000 on hand to tide you over if needed. Gas up your car. If a storm strikes, it may be difficult or impossible to find a gas station that is open and has sufficient supplies of gas to satisfy demand.

What Should I Do When There’s a Hurricane Warning?

Batten down the hatches. Double-check your supplies and close your hurricane shutters. Stay tuned to local television and radio and monitor the storm closely.

If you live in a hurricane evacuation zone, pay careful attention to the media and evacuate when instructed to do so. Remember the lessons of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans – don’t wait until it’s too late!

What About My Pets?

Most hurricane shelters do not accept pets. If you have family pets, be sure to learn about pet-friendly shelters before a storm strikes.