The difference between Small Craft Advisory, Gale Force and Storm Warnings and Watches (Photo Credit: NWS Brownsville)
DISCUSSION: If you live in the coastal regions, likely you have heard the forecast on the news or read the forecast on social media outlets, even hearing the terms such as “Small Craft Advisory”, “Gale Watch” or “Storm Warnings” but have no indication on meaning. These three warnings are based on wind speeds over the ocean or lakes so those who go boating or fishing can be safe due to the winds.
A small craft advisory is an advisory when the winds over the body of the water are forecasted to be or are currently between 25 and 38 miles per hour. This advisory is generally used for those in small boats as those boats are prone to being tipped and sunk in high winds compared to larger boats. A small craft advisory is indicated to boaters by one red pennant at the docks and piers. Waves during a small craft advisory are around 9 and 19 feet.
A gale watch and warning are when the winds are between 39 and 54 mph. The difference between a gale watch and a gale warning is that a watch is when the winds are expected to be gale force while a warning is when the wind is at gale force. A gale watch or warning are mainly issued during non-tropical conditions as the wind speeds for a gale match the criterion of a tropical storm. A gale is indicated by two red pennants. In a gale wind, the waves increase to between 18 and 32 feet.
The final watch and warning for maritime winds during non-tropical situations is Storm Watches and Warnings. A storm watch, like a gale watch, when the winds are forecasted to be 55 mph or above and a warning is when the wind is at or exceeds 55 mph. A storm watch/warning is indicated by a red square flag with a black square in the middle. Waves in a storm force wind are generally 30 feet or higher. If the storm was tropical based then it would be classified as a tropical storm instead of a storm.
Generally, these warnings and watches are issued due to an approaching trough of low pressure especially at coastal regions. We at the Global Weather and Climate Center would like to remind that if you are going to be in the water when the NWS issues any of the aforementioned warnings to be cautious especially when boating as the enhanced waves from the winds can be dangerous and even deadly.
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©2020 Meteorologist JP Kalb