Flash Flood Watch VS. Warning: What’s the Difference?


5 min read ยท Feb 25, 2022

Most people don’t realize that the most common naturally occurring disaster in the United States is flooding. Warm weather, large amounts of melting snow and participation, and tropical storms put thousands of people at risk each year for injury and damage to property and belongings. While some areas of the country are more prone to disastrous floods, the reality is that any area of the country can experience excess precipitation that contributes to flash flooding. When this happens, the United States National Weather Service issues a flood watch or flood warning, depending on existing conditions. This warning is intended to give you and your family enough time to prepare for an emergency shelter in place or possible evacuation. Knowing how to act in these situations will be critical to remaining safe and secure in a potentially chaotic situation.

Flood Advisory, Flood Watch, Flood Warning?

This information is intended to give you a feel for flood watches and warnings, as well as what action steps you must take in each situation to keep you and your loved ones safe. Read on to discover the difference between each alert, as well as what to do in these unique situations as you prepare to protect your family and belongings in case of emergency:

Flood Advisory

Flood advisories are issued when the degree of flooding in a certain area is not expected to be severe enough to demand a warning. This is the lowest-threat alert that the National Weather Service issues around floods, and yet it should still be taken seriously to prevent further issues. Several types of flood advisories exist, and depending on the area in which you live, you may be familiar with one or more. They are:

  • River flood advisory – when river banks and low-lying areas around rivers are expected to flood.
  • Flash flood advisory – when large amounts of rain delivered in a short period are expected to flood streets and storm drains.
  • Area flood advisory – issued when circumstances surrounding rainfall change.
  • Coastal flood advisory – when tropical storms threaten coastal areas along the Pacific, Atlantic, and the Gulf of Mexico.

What to Do in a Flood Advisory

During advisory conditions, try to stay connected to a local news source to keep a handle on rapidly changing conditions. Collect supplies and formulate a plan if conditions worsen and new warnings are issued. Continue to evaluate your situation and make decisions that are in the best interest of all involved, and don’t hesitate to act quickly if you see that additional dangers are present.

Flood Watches

A watch is issued when conditions are favorable for the development of floods. Watches don’t necessarily guarantee that a flood will occur, but rather that you need to keep your eye on changing conditions and be prepared to act if they become more dangerous. Watches and advisories are similar; a watch is the next degree of concern issued by weather experts that things may worsen.

What to Do in a Flood Watch

Similar to an advisory, you must keep an eye on changing weather conditions, communicate with family members, and formulate a plan to keep you all safe and accounted for. It is more important to have a plan in place for a watch than in an advisory, be prepared to act quickly if conditions become worse, and have several escape routes chosen in case you have to stage an emergency evacuation of your home.

Flash Flood Watch VS. Warning

Watches can become warnings in mere minutes, and this is why you must have belongings packed and prepped before their issuance. Flood warnings are issued when flooding is either occurring or imminent. The intensity of rain and the rate at which it is coming down will determine the degree of damage an area will incur in this situation; you must grab necessary belongings and supplies and move to higher ground to avoid injury. A flash flood can take minutes to hours to form, but once it is imminent, it only takes seconds to destroy homes, property, and lives. While it may be tempting to batten down the hatches at home and wait it out, consider an emergency evacuation to ensure the safety of your loved ones. Belongings can be replaced, but people cannot.

What to Do in a Flood Warning

In a warning, you must take action immediately. Most flood fatalities occur because people underestimate the seriousness of a warning, or they think they have more time than they really do to outrun rising floodwaters. Grab your emergency preparedness kit and any belongings that you need for a few days and prepare to move to higher ground. Do not attempt to leave on foot, but be cautious about moving through rising waters in a vehicle, for it may be quickly swept away by the sweeping current. Have a list of emergency contacts with you and make sure that you know where your local emergency shelters are located to ensure that you can save precious minutes in an evacuation. Keeping your family together as much as possible will be an essential part of you making it to shelter safely, but in cases where this is not possible, have a point of contact that all of you can communicate with to stay connected to one another.

Consider packing light in these situations; belongings and even important papers can be replaced. Pack nonperishable food, clothing, water, and any needed medications as you prepare to move to another shelter. Make sure you have fully charged electronics and charging cords with you so you can continue to communicate, and if there is time to prep valuable paperwork and precious heirlooms, do so with caution. In a flash flood, even seconds wasted can be potentially life-threatening. Your life is most important, and protecting yourself and your loved ones should be prioritized above all else.

Replacing Damaged Property

While no one treasures the thought of picking up the pieces after a flood, replacing and restoring your lost items is significantly easier with the right insurance coverage. Neptune Flood makes the process of recovery a great deal easier; with cutting-edge mathematical algorithms and the best insurance coverage money can buy, we will help you get your life back after a catastrophic loss. Contact us today to see how we can help ensure your peace of mind, no matter what the emergency. Get your complimentary quote today, and put yourself and your family on a path to a more secure future.

Original article published June 2018. Updated content and references February 2022.