(WHTM) — With the dog days of summer rapidly approaching, severe weather is not too far behind.

But there is one question that many people ask: What is the difference between a weather watch and a weather warning, and why does it matter?

To put it simply, a weather watch means that the atmosphere is capable of producing whatever weather event the watch is for. For example, if a tornado watch is issued, that means that all of the ingredients to produce a tornado are in place. A watch simply means what it sounds like: to watch the sky and weather radar in case severe weather forms.

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A weather warning is much more urgent and serious, very different from a watch. A weather warning means that whatever the warning is for is imminent or already occurring. A tornado warning, for example, means that a tornado is in the process of forming or has already formed.

As far as other types of weather, what makes a thunderstorm “severe” and warrants a warning?

According to the National Weather Service out of State College, for a severe thunderstorm warning to be issued, winds in the storm need to be at or above 58 miles per hour, and/or hail the size of quarters needs to be present within an already formed storm.

Another example of the difference between a watch and a warning has to do with flooding. A flood watch means that the ground is not capable of holding any more water or that rivers are at a high enough level to cause flooding if more rain falls.

A flood warning is when the ground can’t absorb any more water, or when the river is rising higher than what is normal for that river.

To summarize, a watch means to watch for changing weather. A warning means you should take action to protect your life and property.

For more information about the regional warning and watch criteria for the Midstate, click here. To view the local weather forecast and to see if watches and warnings are issued for the Midstate, check out the abc27 weather page.