In the event of a flood warning, turn around; don’t drown!

Watch or Warning—What’s the difference between natural hazard definitions?

The following is an excerpt from the Texas Homeowner’s Handbook to Prepare for Coastal Natural Hazards published by the Texas General Land Office and the Texas Sea Grant College Program in March 2013.


Note the difference between a watch and a warning in the definitions that follow. Do not confuse the two. When each is triggered, there are different actions to take. Also, note that civil defense or emergency management agencies may issue a mandatory evacuation in the case of a hurricane warning. Familiarize yourself with these terms to help identify a hurricane hazard:

Tropical Depression

An organized system of clouds and thunderstorms with a defined surface circulation and maximum sustained winds of 38 miles per hour (33 knots) or less. Sustained winds are defined as one-minute average wind measured at about 33 feet (10 meters) above the surface.

Tropical Storm

An organized system of strong thunderstorms with a defined surface circulation and maximum sustained winds of 39–73 miles per hour (34–63 knots).

Tropical Storm Watch

Issued when there is a good possibility of tropical storm conditions and associated damaging winds, surf, and flooding rains occurring anytime within 36 hours. Homeowners should prepare their homes and review plans for evacuation in case a tropical storm warning is issued.

Tropical Storm Warning

Issued when there is a high probability of tropical storm conditions occurring anytime within 24 hours. Homeowners should complete all storm preparations and leave the threatened area if directed by local officials. A tropical storm warning may not always be preceded by a tropical storm watch.

Hurricane

An intense tropical weather system of strong thunderstorms with a well-defined surface circulation and maximum sustained winds of 74 miles per hour (64 knots) or higher.

Hurricane Watch

Issued when there is a good possibility of hurricane conditions and associated damaging winds, surf, and flooding rains occurring anytime within 36 hours. Homeowners should prepare their homes and review plans for evacuation in case a hurricane warning is issued.

Hurricane Warning

Issued when there is a high probability of hurricane conditions occurring anytime within 24 hours. Homeowners should complete all storm preparations and leave the threatened area if directed by local officials. A hurricane warning may not always be preceded by a hurricane watch.

Short-Term Watches and Warnings

These warnings provide detailed information about specific hurricane threats, such as flash floods and tornadoes.

Flood Watch

Issued when flash flooding or flooding is possible within the designated watch area. Homeowners should be prepared to move to higher ground and should listen to NOAA weather radio, local radio, or local television stations for information.

Flood Warning

Issued when flash flooding or flooding has been reported or is imminent. Take necessary precautions at once and avoid going through flooded areas as the force of the water may cause your vehicle to drift into the water. Turn around, don’t drown. If advised to evacuate to higher ground, do so immediately.

Storm Surge

A dome of water pushed onshore by hurricane and tropical storm winds. Storm surges can reach 25 feet high and be 50–100 miles wide.

Storm Tide

A combination of storm surge and the normal tide (i.e., a 15- foot storm surge combined with a 2-foot normal high tide over the mean sea level creates a 17-foot storm tide).


Coastal protection is a priority at the Texas General Land Office. Commissioner George P. Bush initiated the Texas Coastal Resiliency Master Plan in 2015. The plan was released this March. In April 2017, Commissioner Bush and more than 60 other co-signers sent a letter to the president advocating for a new coastal barrier to further protect the Texas coast.