What is the difference between an advisory, watch, and a warning?

I thought I would take a minute and explain some of the most common weather terminology – and to many people, some of the most confusing What exactly is a hurricane or tropical storm advisory, watch, and warning? Which one is the worst case? Let’s look at them one by one:

According to FEMA or the Federal Emergency Management Agency:

Tropical Storm or Hurricane Advisory—The NWS issues an Advisory when it
expects conditions to cause significant inconveniences that may be hazardous.
If caution is used, these situations should not be life-threatening.


So in other words, an advisory lets you know you should take precautions, but that things are not supposed to get really bad.

FEMA goes on to define a watch:

Tropical Storm or Hurricane Watch—The NWS issues a Watch when a tropical storm or hurricane is possible within 48 hours. Tune in to NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards, local radio, TV, or other news sources for more information. Monitor alerts, check your emergency supplies, and gather any items you may need if you lose power.


This is getting more serious. For a hurricane watch, hurricane conditions (sustained winds of 74 mph or greater) are possible within 48 hours. For a tropical storm watch, tropical storm conditions (sustained winds of 39 to 73 mph) are possible within the specified area within 48 hours.

FEMA describes a warning:

Tropical Storm or Hurricane Warning—The NWS issues a Warning when it expects
a tropical storm or hurricane within 36 hours. During a Warning, complete your
storm preparations, and immediately leave the threatened area if directed to do so
by local officials.


This is very serious. For a hurricane warning, hurricane conditions (sustained winds of 74 mph or greater) are expected somewhere within the specified area within 36 hours. At this point, all preparations should be complete because winds and other threats are upon you. You must also evacuate immediately if ordered by authorities. For a tropical storm warning, tropical storm conditions (sustained winds of 39 to 73 mph) are expected within your area within 36 hours.

Extreme Wind Warning

This is very very dangerous, with extreme sustained winds of a major hurricane (115 mph or greater) coming within one hour! This is usually associated with the eye-wall, and you should take immediate shelter in the interior part of your house or shelter.

I hope none of you ever have to ride out such extreme conditions. But if you are unfortunate enough to experience a hurricane or tropical storm, you will have the peace of mind of having prepared yourself, your family, and your home for it.

Tropical Scan

Check the NHC forecasts for the latest tropical information. Stay prepared and safe.

For more weather details, visit our Tropical Weather Briefing for NHC forecasts, weather maps, and links.