Beyond The Forecast: It’s the inaugural Severe Weather Awareness Week in Virginia!

It’s the start of another week in our corner of the Commonwealth and that means a new edition of the WSLS Beyond The Forecast newsletter! This week is a special one as it’s the first time we’re dedicating a few days to talk about severe weather awareness.

There will be five topics covered this week: the difference between a watch and a warning, tornadoes, severe storms, flooding and lightning.

If you’ve ever watched our severe weather coverage on 10 News or if you have our weather app downloaded, you’ve likely seen the words “watch” and “warning.” You should take both words seriously, but they mean slightly different things.

Severe thunderstorm watches will be conveyed in pink on the map on your TV screen, while warnings will be posted in orange. A watch means that conditions are favorable for severe thunderstorms, while a warning means they are about to happen or already are happening.

When the risk for tornadoes is in the forecast, the watch/warning terminology expands a bit and the colors you see on 10 News change.

Yellow means a tornado watch has been issued and that conditions are favorable for twisters to develop, while red means a tornado is currently happening or could touch down soon.

In rare cases, National Weather Service meteorologists will issue a “tornado emergency” for confirmed tornadoes that pose a great threat to life and property. *IF* you ever see one of these during our severe weather coverage, it will be painted in pink on the map.

Finally, floods can be communicated by a few different alerts. An “areal flood” alert refers to minor flooding over a given area, while “flash flood” is a more dangerous situation where water can quickly overcome roadways and structures. Each of these cases can be broken down into a watch or warning as well.

Phew, did you get all that? Well, that’s just Monday’s topic. Let’s chat about tornado safety, which is what we’ll highlight on Tuesday.

With twisters, you basically want to get as much protection around you as possible. Also, travel should be avoided if your area is under a tornado warning.

You can practice your response through a statewide tornado drill that’s scheduled for Tuesday morning.

It’s at 9:45 a.m. and will be broadcast by NOAA weather radio and the Emergency Alert System (EAS).

Next up, we have severe thunderstorms. As often as we talk about them, you may have never heard what makes a storm severe.

Heavy rain and lightning won’t cut it. We have to see signs of damaging winds (58 mph or higher), large hail (1″ diameter or larger) or the potential to produce a tornado.

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation has also dubbed this week as “Flood Awareness Week,” which is Thursday’s topic for severe weather awareness.

Flooding is the most common and costly natural disaster, but only 3% of Virginians have flood insurance. All it takes is one inch of water in your home to produce $25,000 in damage.

Rising and rushing water on roadways can be incredibly dangerous, but time and time again, we see people driving through flooded roads. Stop! Turn around, don’t drown!

It only takes a foot of water to carry your vehicle away. If you try to brave it on foot, your odds of making it through are even lower as six inches of water can carry a person away.

Finally, we’ll talk about lightning safety on Friday. The rule of thumb here is: when thunder roars, go indoors.

If for some reason you have to be outside when a thunderstorm threatens, you’ll want to avoid open fields, hills and ridge tops as lightning will strike the tallest person in the area.

Most people have the common sense to get out of pools, rivers or lakes when they hear thunder, but you should also avoid showering, washing your hands or using any other kinds of plumbing as the electricity from lightning can travel through and shock you.

I have one final thing I want to touch on and it’s a virtual storm spotter training class that will be happening tonight. I discussed the importance of storm spotters in last week’s newsletter. You have a few more hours to sign up as the class starts at 6:30 p.m.

Alright, let’s switch gears to the forecast. We actually could see some early-season severe weather on Thursday. Meteorologist Chris Michaels has those details plus another system that could bring a brief shot of wintry weather tonight in our daily forecast article.

You can always get specific forecast details for your zone, whether it’s the Roanoke Valley, Southside, the Highlands or elsewhere around Southwest and Central Virginia, anytime at Know your zone!

In case you missed it, we’re posting great weather and science content on Here are a few links from the past week to check out:

If you prefer your weather information delivered by social media, you can follow Your Local Weather Authority on Facebook and Twitter.

You can also keep up with me on social media. I’m on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, follow along!

-- Justin McKee

About the Author: