LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The National Weather Service, in cooperation with the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, has proclaimed the week of February 27th through March 5th as Severe Weather Awareness Week in Arkansas. A different topic will be discussed each day, and Friday’s topic is watches and warnings.

Severe thunderstorms produce damaging straight-line wind gusts of 58 mph or greater, quarter size hail or larger, and/or tornadoes. Surrounding an event featuring severe thunderstorms, watches and warnings are issued to help you prepare for what may unfold. When conditions are favorable for severe storms, a watch is issued by the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) in Norman, Oklahoma. The SPC is a part of the National Weather Service. Watches often encompass a large area, sometimes several states, and are valid for roughly six hours. Watches serve to give you a “heads up” that severe weather may be coming.

When storms develop and are classified as severe, warnings are issued by a local National Weather Service office. Warnings are posted in areas outlined in a polygon incorporating parts of one or more counties and are valid for an hour or less. When there is a warning, the threat is imminent, and you need to take action.

There is something to mention, and it is a relatively new practice (beginning in 2021). As expected wind gusts and hail sizes increase, severe thunderstorm warnings need to garner more attention. There is usually little commotion surrounding the basic Severe Thunderstorm Warning (60 mph winds/one inch hail). However, if 70 to 80 mph gusts or golf ball to tennis ball size hail are in the warning, it will be tagged as a “considerable” damage threat. For gusts above 80 mph or baseball size hail or larger, the damage tag will be labeled as “destructive“. This tag will result in the activation of a Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) through the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), and this will go to cell phones within the warning polygon.

With a watch in place, severe storms might happen. When warnings are in place, severe storms are happening or at least detected by NWS doppler radar.

…Watch and Warning Rules to Follow…

1: Be ready to go to a safe place when a watch is in effect.

2: Monitor conditions, the Arkansas Storm Team, and the National Weather Service for several hours or until the watch expires or is cancelled.

3: When a warning is issued go to your safe place. Stay put until storms pass and/or the warning expires or is cancelled.

4: The safest place to be is a safe room or a basement. If these are not available, go to an interior room on the lowest floor of a house or building. Put as many walls between you and the outdoors as possible. And stay away from windows.