Tornadoes are violently rotating columns of air that extend from a thunderstorm to the ground. Tornadoes can destroy buildings, flip cars, and create deadly flying debris.tornadowatchvswarning

A tornado can:

  • Happen anytime and anywhere.
  • Bring intense winds, over 200 miles per hour.
  • Look like funnels.

The National Weather Service in Wilmington or the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, OK issue watches and warnings for our area.

  • A statement or advisory means that weather may be developing at some point that you need to pay attention to.
  • A watch means that conditions are favorable for the development of severe weather.  It means to monitor and be ready to act if conditions worsen.
  • A warning is an action item - severe weather conditions have been seen or reported, and you need to do something to protect life and property

An easy way to remember the difference is to think of cupcakes. 

  • You've decided you want cupcakes and you say "I think I want cupcakes sometime later today." That's a statement or advisory.
  • You visit the store and buy all of the ingredients to make cupcakes.  You have them all measured out and ready, the cupcake foils are in the tins, the oven is warming up, and you follow the recipe. That's a watch.
  • You have successfully made and frosted the cupcakes and are ready to eat them! All of the ingredients came together to make the richest most delicious cupcake. That's a warning.

Image of ingredients for a cupcake (watch) and finished cupcake (warning)

(Photo credit Brad Panovich, Meterologist)

  • Know your tornado risk. The typical peak tornado season in North Carolina runs from March through May, though tornadoes can occur at any time of year. Although North Carolina has fewer tornadoes than the Midwest, we still see an average of 31 tornadoes a year. 
    • Southeast NC also sees the increased chance of tornadic activity with landfalling tropical weather systems.
  • Know the signs of a tornado, including a rotating, funnel-shaped cloud, an approaching cloud of debris, or a loud roar like a freight train.
  • Sign up for emergency alerts to be notified about tornado watches and warnings.  The Emergency Alert System (EAS) and NOAA Weather Radio also provide emergency alerts. If your community has sirens, then become familiar with the warning tone.
  • Pay attention to weather reports. Meteorologists can predict when conditions might be right for a tornado.
  • Identify and practice going to a safe shelter such as a safe room built using FEMA criteria or a storm shelter built to ICC 500 standards. The next best protection is a small, interior, windowless room or basement on the lowest level of a sturdy building.
  • Plan for your pet. They are an important member of your family, so they need to be included in your family’s emergency plan.
  • Prepare for long-term stay at home or sheltering in place by gathering emergency supplies, cleaning supplies, non-perishable foods, water, medical supplies and medication.