What is the Difference Between a Flood Warning and a Flood Watch?

Officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) report that fully 98% of counties in the United States have experienced severe flooding at one one time or another in their history. A FEMA fact sheet expresses this risk in more plain and simple terms: “Anywhere it can rain, it can flood.”

To inform you of a potential flood event and necessary flood safety measures, the National Weather Service (NWS) issues bulletins keyed to areas located along specific bodies of water such as rivers or coastal regions, as well as on a county-by-county basis across the entire country. Here are the levels of NWS alerts regarding flooding:

Flood Watch

This is the preliminary alert to make you aware of conditions that could potentially cause flooding. Typically, a flood watch is issued to cover a time frame of 24 to 48 hours. The watch will state that flooding could possibly take place in a designated general area. A flood watch does not mean flooding is already occurring, nor is it a guarantee that it will occur. If your home is in an area covered by a flood watch, it’s a good idea to keep a radio or television tuned in to potential updates in the event you are advised to take additional action.

Flood Warning

This means flooding in your area is already occurring or is imminent. The alert includes vital information such as forecasted conditions, duration that the warning is in effect, evacuation advisories, information about blocked roads and locations of emergency shelters. If a flood warning is issued, follow the information provided in the warning and take immediate action to evacuate the area or move to higher ground.

Flash Flood Warning

These alerts warn of rapidly-developing flash floods that can turn dry conditions into a life-threatening danger zone in a matter of only minutes. You will be advised to move to nearest higher ground without any delay. There may not be time to evacuate to any remote location. Flash flood warnings should never be disregarded, even if it’s not raining at your specific location at that moment.

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