ST. LOUIS – Overnight storms led to several tornado watches and warnings, and even three confirmed tornadoes from the National Weather Service.

Tuesday morning, it was seen across social media and Google Trends that some may not know how to be fully weather-aware in these situations, including what different warning systems mean and how to receive them.

Severe thunderstorm warning vs. Tornado watch vs. Tornado warning

Google Trends shows people in St. Louis searching for what the difference is as to what criteria makes up for a watch versus a warning.

A severe thunderstorm warning is issued when storms reach wind gusts of over 58 mph and/or if there is hail larger than a quarter-inch in diameter, according to the NWS. These can pose imminent danger to life and property, according to NWS.

When the NWS issues a tornado watch, it means that there are favorable atmospheric conditions for the formation of tornadoes. It does not guarantee that a tornado will happen. As the name suggests, it is a sign to keep a close eye on the sky, tune into local broadcasting for more information, and be prepared to act quickly to go to your safe room.

And if you receive a tornado warning, this indicates that radar has detected rotation or that there has been a tornado sighting. This is the time to take shelter immediately.

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Tornado sirens

There can be a lot of confusion surrounding outdoor warning sirens and what they mean for those who can hear them. The NWS has an entire page dedicated to frequently asked questions about the sirens.

First and foremost, the sirens are designed to warn those who are outside, not inside. This is why it remains important that residents do not solely rely on hearing the sirens during a severe storm.

The sirens aren’t always for a tornado threat either, according to NWS. Sometimes, it can be for life-threatening hail or wind. For example, if winds reach 70 mph, trees can snap or be uprooted, and hail that is large enough can break windows, as we’ve seen in recent months around St. Louis.

Sirens sound for three minutes in Missouri, typically. When the sound stops, it does not mean that the weather threat has ended.

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Ways to receive weather alerts

There are a number of ways to be notified during severe weather, and it is strongly recommended to have multiple ways of receiving weather updates, especially during the night.

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The NWS will automatically send out very loud alerts, called Wireless Emergency Alerts, on smartphones. These sound for tornado warnings, high-end severe thunderstorm warnings, high-end flash flood warnings, dust storm warnings, and snow squall warnings.

According to the NWS St. Louis, the severe thunderstorm warning will sound for an alert if the storm is expected to produce winds of over 80 mph or baseball-sized hail.

However, in order to receive these notifications, the phone user must have the alerts enabled in their phone’s settings and must be inside the warning itself, not outside or nearby.

Other methods to receive alerts can be through a weather app with push notifications turned on with sound or with a NOAA weather radio. For more information about the weather radios in the St. Louis area, click here.

To receive alerts from your county, look up their emergency management system website to sign up for text notifications during severe weather.

As strong, severe weather is expected Wednesday, stay up-to-date with the latest forecast and storm details with FOX 2’s meteorologists by clicking here.