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Some of the following information is courtesy of "FEMA: Hurricane Background and Preparedness Information."
A hurricane watch is issued when there is a threat of hurricane conditions within 24-36 hours. A hurricane warning is issued when hurricane conditions (winds of 74 miles per hour or greater, or dangerously high water and rough seas) are expected within 24 hours.
Additional steps for preparing for hurricane watches and warnings are available in the Chatham Emergency Management Agency's Hurricane Action Guide.