Weather Watch vs. Warning vs. Advisory

These Words Hint at How Serious Your Weather Threat Is

storm alert
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When the weather turns ill, the National Weather Service (NWS) may issue a watch, warning, or advisory to alert you of this. But knowing you have a watch or warning does you little good if you don't know what level of threat it carries.

In order from least to most threatening, the four-tier approach used by NWS to alert the public of weather hazards includes: outlooks, advisories, watches, and warnings.

 RankIssued when:You should take this action:
OutlooksLeast SeriousHazardous weather is due to occur in the next 3 to 7 days.Stay tuned. Monitor the weather situation for further updates.
AdvisoryLess SeriousWeather conditions are less serious, but may cause significant inconvenience.Exercise caution.
WatchMore SeriousThere is increased risk of a hazardous weather event, but its occurrence, location, or timing is still uncertain.Listen for further information. Plan/prepare what to do if the danger materializes.
WarningMost SeriousA hazardous weather event is occurring, imminent, or likely, and a threat to life or property exists.Take action immediately to protect life and property!

Not Issued in Any Special Order

Outlooks and advisories may be the least serious weather alerts, but that doesn't mean they'll always be issued first. Remember that there is no prescribed order for issuing advisories, watches, and warnings. The NWS doesn't issue a watch next, and a warning after that.

At times, a weather situation might develop slowly, in which case an advisory, watch, and a warning will each be issued in their appropriate order. At other times, a weather situation may develop very quickly which could mean you'll go from having no weather alert at all, and a warning issued. (The advisory or watch will be skipped).

Can You Stack Weather Alerts?

In general, a watch and a warning for a single weather hazard cannot be issued simultaneously. (For example, a tornado watch and a tornado warning can't be in effect at the same time. Either an advisory, or a watch, or a warning must be issued per weather event.)

Weather outlooks are one exception to this rule. They can be issued alongside an advisory, watch, or warning for the same weather hazard.

When it comes to different weather hazards, there's no limit to the number of alerts that a forecast zone can be under. For example, Cody, WY could have an active blizzard warning, high wind warning, and windchill advisory in effect all at the same time.

What Weather Alerts are Active Right Now?

To find out what weather alerts are currently active across the U.S., view the NWS national map of active watches, warnings, and advisories, here. For a list of active warnings by state, click here.