There are a couple of weather terms that too many people confuse. Let’s take a little time* to set the record straight.
TORNADO WATCH: This means conditions are favorable for the development of tornadoes (as NOAA** puts it). The atmosphere is acting in ways that tend to produce tornadoes. Not a single one has been seen yet.
TORNADO WARNING: This means one of two things: 1) National Weather Service radar has detected rotation in a severe thunderstorm that has either produced a tornado or could at any moment, or 2) someone has seen a tornado and reported it.
When a tornado watch is announced, that’s the time to begin preparing for the worst. Know where you would go, quickly, for shelter if a warning were to be given. Listen to NOAA weather radio or your local news outlets or Internet sources for further updates (again, borrowing directly from NOAA’s own language). Keep an eye on the skies and an ear on the weather radio. Be aware.
When a tornado warning is announced, go immediately to your shelter. Do not pass Go, do not collect your favorite things other than the kids and pets.
Tornado watch means, “Hey, keep watch; there could be a tornado today.”
Tornado warning means, “Holy Mother of God! Here comes one now!”
This is a case when confusing the terms could lead to injury or death. Remember the difference so you can act accordingly.
* I wonder if anyone has ever made a tornado watch; i.e., a timepiece with a tornado motif. Could be extremely popular among the chaser crowd. I claim 10% of the profits.
** NOAA: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This federal agency operates the National Weather Service.