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

Austin and much of Central Texas is expected to have a wet week ahead, and with heavy rain can come flooding.

The National Weather Service is predicting scattered to numerous showers and thunderstorms and possible flash flooding for the first part of next week, with more isolated to scattered showers and thunderstorms for later in the week.

The NWS says that local to widespread heavy rains are possible, especially earlier in the week and may cause some flooding. Below to well below average high temperatures and humid conditions are also expected as well as near average low temperatures.

So before those storms roll in, let's take a look at the difference between a flood watch, a flood advisory, and a flood/flash flood warning.

Flood Watch

What is a Flood Watch?

A Flood Watch means that heavy rain is in the forecast and is expected to result in flooding. It does not mean flooding will happen, but that it is possible.

This type of alert comes first before it starts raining. The NWS says that watches are often in effect for multiple days.

What do I do during a Flood Watch?

The NWS recommends doing the following:

  • Monitor weather forecasts
  • Review flood safety information
  • Make sure friends and family are aware and ready

Residents can also prepare by:

  • Creating a communications plan with your friends and family
  • Assembling an emergency kit with enough food, water and medicine on hand at all times to last you at least three days as well as batteries, blankets, flashlights, first aid kit, rubber boots, rubber gloves, and a NOAA Weather Radio or other battery operated radio easily available.
  • Knowing your flood risk, such as is your home/office/school in a floodplain, where is water likely to collect on roadways you travel most often, what is the fastest way to higher ground?
  • Signing up for notifications through the Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service RSS feeds
  • Preparing your home, such as with sandbags, checking plumbing valves, checking pumps, clearly labeling circuit breakers and fuses, and having flood insurance
  • Preparing your family and pets in case of evacuation and gather all essentials ahead of time
  • Charging essential electronics such as your cell phone and portable radios and making sure you have back-up batteries on hand.
  • Evacuating and making alternative plans for a place to stay, including for your pets

Flood Advisory

What is a Flood Advisory?

A Flood Advisory means that flooding is not expected to be bad enough to issue a warning but can cause "significant inconvenience" or could lead to life or property-threatening situations if not cautious. 

This type of alert is issued while heavy rain is falling and can be in effect for a few hours, says NWS.

Advisories are issued for "typical" or "common" flooding of:

  • Urban areas with poor drainage
  • Construction zones
  • Low water crossings
  • Small creeks and streams

What do I do during a Flood Advisory?

The NWS recommends doing the following:

  • Beware of water on roadways
  • Never drive into floodwaters, even if they appear shallow
  • Avoid drainage areas and creeks or streams that could rise rapidly
  • Never drive around barricades blocking flooded roads

The NWS reminds all residents that minor flooding can become life-threatening with a bad decision. A mere six inches of fast-moving floodwater can knock over an adult, just 12 inches of rushing water can carry away most cars and just two feet of rushing water can carry away SUVs and trucks. 

Flood/Flash Flood Warnings

What is a Flood Warning?

A Flood Warning is issued to inform the public of flooding that poses a serious threat to life and/or property, says NWS. A Flood Warning may be issued hours to days before based on forecast conditions. Floods occurring along a river usually contain river stage (level) forecasts.

What is a Flash Flood Warning?

A Flash Flood Warning means that flooding has become life-threatening with rapidly rising, swift moving water, water entering homes and buildings and vehicles potentially being swept off roadways. This type of alert is issued just before or while flooding is happening and can stay in effect for a few hours, says NWS.

NWS adds that a flash flood is a "sudden violent flood that can take from minutes to hours to develop" and that just because your area isn't immediately receiving rain doesn't mean It is not possible to experience a flash flood.

What do I do during a Flash Flood Warning?

The NWS recommends doing the following:

  • Seek higher ground if on a floodplain
  • Avoid all water-covered roads