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The Difference Between Hurricane vs. Tropical Storm Watches & Warnings

Posted by Jimmy Hawley on Aug 11, 2020 3:45:00 PM
Hurricane Watch vs Hurricane Warning: What You Need To Know

It's crucial for Floridians and those living in tropical storm areas alike to know the difference between two important weather labels: watches and warnings.

But not only are their hurricane watches and warnings, there are also tropical storm watches and warnings. These four unique terms are often confused, and in this post, we’re demystifying the definitions. 

Here is the difference between these weather terms and what you can do to prepare for each:

What is a Hurricane Watch?

According to the National Hurricane Center, a hurricane watch is an announcement that hurricane conditions (sustained winds of 74 mph or higher) are possible within the specified area. 

What to Do When a Hurricane Watch is Announced

When a watch of any kind is issued it means you should gather information about the specific threat and prepare. It’s not a course for immediate action— instead, as the name implies, it means that the weather center is watching to see how the storm evolves before recommending any immediate moves. 


Preparation activities can be hard to execute once winds get to tropical storm force, therefore watches are generally issued anywhere from 36 to 48 hours in advance of the coming tropical-storm force winds, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

During any type of hurricane watch, hurricane or tropical storm, you'll want to get your home ready for possible evacuation in case a tropical storm or hurricane warning follows shortly. You'll want to be listening to a radio or TV station that is reporting the weather to be informed of the possible impending hurricane warning; you'll then need to take action.

What is a Tropical Storm Watch?

This is similar to a hurricane watch, in that it implies concern about impending weather conditions. The difference is, a tropical storm watch warns that tropical storm conditions (sustained winds of 39 to 73 mph) are possible within the specified coastal area within 48 hours, according to NOAA.

The key differentiator is that a tropical storm watch means tropical storm conditions are possible (winds between 39-73 mph), which is generally less severe than hurricane conditions (winds of 74mph or higher).


What to Do When a Tropical Storm Watch is Announced

Tropical storms are generally less violent and more commonly experienced in Florida than a hurricane, so just keep your eyes and ears on the weather channel for updates to see if the watch changes to a warning.

What is a Hurricane Warning?

A warning means a weather hazard is approaching and that hurricane conditions (sustained winds of 74 mph or higher) are expected somewhere within the specified coastal area.

During a warning, The National Weather Service is certain of the storm's landfall. It means that the weather event is happening or it is about to happen at any moment. 

What to Do When a Hurricane Warning is Announced

A warning is synonymous with taking action. You'll want to follow your emergency plan and head to safety immediately. 

Hurricane warnings are urgent. In the event of a warning, it is crucial to listen to your local authorities and follow their evacuation recommendations. If you live in an evacuation area, it's a good idea to have a local hurricane shelter in mind to go to when a warning is issued.


Hurricane warnings are rated by the wind speed and intensity of the approaching weather conditions. Read about the difference between Category 1-5 hurricanes to know exactly how to prepare when one strikes here.

What is a Tropical Storm Warning?

A tropical storm warning also means that a tropical storm is no longer simply possible and being watched— it’s coming. 

According to NOAA, this announcement means tropical storm conditions (sustained winds of 39 to 73 mph) are expected somewhere within the specified coastal area within 36 hours.

What to Do When a Tropical Storm Warning is Announced

Depending on the severity of the winds, your course of action will vary. As with a hurricane warning, we recommend listening to your local weather channel’s recommendations and acting as quickly as possible. 

Other Hurricane Terminology

There are a few different location terms (landfall, storm surge, etc.), varying parts of a storm (the eye, the eye wall, etc.) and formation terms (wind shears, barometric pressure, etc.) that are also helpful to learn about.

Check out our 101 Guide to Hurricane Terminology to understand what these mean.

Prepare with our Hurricane Guide!

Are you new to living in Florida or a first-time homeowner in the sunshine state? Our coastal region is frequently hit with tropical storms and hurricanes, so it’s smart to always be prepared.

Download our free Hurricane Guide for storm prep tips, including what to protect your windows, inside your home, and more. 

Hurricane Guide

Topics: Hurricane Preparedness