New emergency alerts set to begin in July; here’s what they mean

National News

(WTAJ) — The National Weather Service(NWS) announced Thursday that Wireless Emergency Alerts(WEA) for “destructive” weather will begin being sent to phones on July 28.

Starting July 28, the National Weather Service will begin to alert people on the severity and potential impacts from hail and thunderstorm winds by adding a “damage threat” to Severe Thunderstorm Warnings. The NWS said it’s similar to the tornado and flash flood warnings.

“Destructive” and “Considerable” Damage Threat Categories

The NWS has recently developed three categories of damage threats for severe thunderstorm warnings to distinguish between high-impact and low-impact events.

These tags and additional messaging are designed to promote immediate action, based on the threats:

  • The criteria for a destructive damage threat is at least 2.75 inch diameter (baseball-sized) hail and/or 80 mph thunderstorm winds. Warnings with this tag will automatically activate a Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) on smartphones within the warned area.
  • The criteria for a considerable damage threat is at least 1.75 inch diameter (golf ball-sized) hail and/or 70 mph thunderstorm winds. This will not activate a WEA.
  • The criteria for a baseline or “base” severe thunderstorm warning remains unchanged, 1.00 inch (quarter-sized) hail and/or 58 mph thunderstorm winds. This will not activate a WEA. When no damage threat tag is present, damage is expected to be at the base level.

Severe thunderstorms can be life-threatening, but not all severe storms are the same. Hazardous conditions range from tornadoes, large hail storms, and widespread straight-line winds called derechoes, to cloud-to-ground lightning and flash flooding. 

According to the NWS, only 10 percent of all severe thunderstorms reach the destructive category each year. Most of these storms are damaging wind events and more intense thunderstorms, called “Supercell” storms that can typically produce very large hail in their path.

The new destructive thunderstorm category will convey that urgent action is needed. Storms categorized as destructive will trigger a WEA to your cell phone.

Thirteen of the 22 costliest weather disasters in 2020 were severe thunderstorms, according to the NWS. The new “destructive” tag would have activated a Wireless Emergency Alert for many of these impactful events.

Learn how to stay safe in a severe thunderstorm. Knowing what to do before, during, and after severe weather can increase your chances of survival.

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