NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — As the leaves return to trees, flowers blossom and warm air begins to return to Middle Tennessee, so does the risk of severe weather.

While severe weather can strike at any time, the risk typically ramps up around March, with April considered as the peak month for tornadoes in Middle Tennessee.

Waynesboro, TN (Courtesy: Shawn Gammill)

However, this year’s spring severe weather is off to an early start, with multiple tornadoes confirmed after a round of strong storms last week. The tornadoes left a trail of damage from Wayne County to Maury County, blowing down dozens of trees and damaging some buildings.

With the severe weather season just getting started, it’s important to be prepared. That includes staying up to date on forecasts and informed about severe thunderstorm watches and warnings.

There is a range of alerts that could be issued by the National Weather Service (NWS) during severe storms. Below is a full list of severe weather terms and what they mean.

Tornado watch vs. warning

A tornado watch is issued by the NWS when conditions are favorable for the development of tornadoes in or close to the watch area.

A watch is usually issued for about four to eight hours. During the watch, people should review tornado safety rules and be prepared to move to a safe place should conditions worsen, according to the NWS.

While a tornado warning means people in the affected area should seek safe shelter immediately.

The NWS issues a tornado warning once a tornado is indicated by the radar or sighted by spotters. A warning will include where the tornado was located and what towns will be in its path.

A tornado warning can be issued without a watch already being in effect and usually lasts for about 30 minutes.

Severe thunderstorm warning vs. watch

A severe thunderstorm watch is issued by the NWS when conditions are favorable for the development of severe thunderstorms in and close to the watch area.

By definition, a severe thunderstorm is a thunderstorm that produces one inch hail or larger in diameter and winds of 58 miles an hour or greater, according to the NWS. The size of the watch can vary depending on the weather situation.

Severe thunderstorm watches last for about four to eight hours and are normally issued well in advance of the severe weather. During the watch, the NWS said people should review safety rules and be prepared to move to a safe place if threatening weather approaches.

A severe thunderstorm warning is issued either when indicated by radar or when a spotter reports severe thunderstorm conditions like one inch hail or larger.

People should take shelter immediately during a severe thunderstorm warning as severe thunderstorms can produce tornadoes with little or no warning, according to the NWS.

Like a tornado warning, a severe thunderstorm warning can be issued without a watch already being in place. They typically last for about an hour and include where the storm was located, what areas will be affected, and the primary threat associated with the thunderstorm.

Flash flood watch vs. warning

A flash flood is caused by heavy or excessive rainfall in a short period of time, generally less than six hours. At times, a dam failure can also cause a flash flood, according to the NWS.

A flash flood watch is issued by the NWS to indicate current or developing conditions that are favorable for flash flooding in and close to the watch area. During a watch, the occurrence is neither certain nor imminent.

A flash flood warning is issued to inform the public, emergency management and other cooperating agencies that flash flooding is in progress, imminent or highly likely.

Urban and small stream flood advisory

This advisory alerts the public to flooding which is generally only an inconvenience to those living in the area and not life-threatening, according to the NWS.

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It is issued when heavy rain will cause flooding of streets and low-lying places in urban areas. The advisory also is used if small rural or urban streams are expected to reach or exceed the top of the banks and some damage to homes or roads could occur.

February 19th through the 25th marks Severe Weather Awareness week. Stay connected to News 2 on-air and on for important information to keep you and your family safe, all week.