New “Destructive” severe thunderstorm warnings will trigger wireless emergency alerts
ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - Severe thunderstorms aren’t alike and it doesn’t have to spawn a tornado to cause destruction. But over the years, as part of the Hazard Simplification Project at the National Weather Service, that got the governmental organization thinking.
Rich Kinney is the Warning Coordination Meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in the Quad Cities. He says, “This is kind of more than simplification, this is sort of an enhancement to the severe thunderstorm warning.”
The NWS says the new alert better describes the severity and potential impacts from thunderstorm winds and hail by adding a damage threat. It will be similar to tornado and flash flood warnings.
Kinney says, “Kind of trying to expand our reach, reach a lot more people with how widespread cell phone technology is. That was the driving force behind this project.”
A Severe Thunderstorm Warning will be tagged “Considerable” once a storm produces 1.75 inch (golf ball-sized) hail and/or 70 mph winds.
A Severe Thunderstorm Warning will be tagged “Destructive” once a storm produces 2.75 inch (baseball-sized) hail and/or 80 mph winds. The derecho in Iowa from August 2020, which cost $11 billion is the costliest thunderstorm in U.S. History. Many of the storms from that day would have been in this category.
Once a severe thunderstorm is deemed “Destructive”, a Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) will be activated for people within the warning area. This will send out an emergency alert to your smartphone, similar to what occurs when a Tornado Warning is issued for your area.
Kinney says, “Folks can get their weather information in many different ways. Our goal here at the weather service and broadcast media partners is to cut through that noise with an effective message that’s going to get people to take action.”
Getting people to take action is a process. Kinney says these new warnings will only speed up that process to save lives. “I’ve been on a number of storm surveys lately and have spoken to a lot of folks who say the warning came out 15 minutes ahead of time and at the same time, my cell phone alert went off and we too shelter. That’s what you want to hear, that’s when reality really hits you when you’re talking to folks and you hear their stories of the process working the way it’s supposed to,” Kinney says.
On average, only 10 percent of all severe thunderstorms reach the “destructive” category each year nationwide. 12 of the 22 costliest weather disasters in 2020 were severe thunderstorms, the National Weather Service says.
The new changes went into effect on August 2.
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