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NOAA: “Destructive” severe thunderstorms will now trigger cell phone alert

Storms capable of baseball size hail and / or 80mph wind will set off the Wireless Emergency Alert system
Damaging wind from this severe thunderstorm uprooted a tree, causing it to fall into a nearby...
Damaging wind from this severe thunderstorm uprooted a tree, causing it to fall into a nearby home.(WMTV-TV/Colton Molesky)
Published: Jul. 22, 2021 at 9:09 PM CDT
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BRYAN, Texas (KBTX) - Severe thunderstorms can be life-threatening, but not all severe thunderstorms are the same. Starting July 28th, the National Weather Service will start a new initiative to better convey the severity and potential impacts from thunderstorm winds and hail by adding a “damage threat” tag to each Severe Thunderstorm Warning issued. This new threat tag will be similar to those already included when tornado and flash flood warnings are issued. If a severe thunderstorm warning is issued with the tag “destructive” it will trigger the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) on mobile phones in the warned area, sounding an alarm.

The National Weather Service developed three categories of damage threat for severe thunderstorm warnings to distinguish between high-impact and low-impact events. These tags -- described below -- are designed to promote immediate action, based on the threats.

  • Destructive: Threat is at least baseball size (2.75″) hail and/or 80mph thunderstorm winds. Warnings with this tag will automatically activate a WEA on smartphones within the warned area.
  • Considerable: Threat is at least golf-ball size (1.75″) hail and/or 70mph thunderstorm wind. This will not activate a WEA.
  • Base: This is the standard severe thunderstorm threshold for issuing a warning -- quarter size (1.00″) hail and/or 58mph thunderstorm wind. This will not activate a WEA.

According to NOAA, “only 10 percent of all severe thunderstorms reach the destructive category each year, nationwide. Most of these storms are damaging wind events such as Derechos and some of the larger, more intense thunderstorms called ‘Supercell’ storms that can typically produce very large hail in their path. The new destructive thunderstorm category conveys...urgent action is needed, a life-threatening event is occurring and may cause substantial damage to property.”

For more information about severe weather and what you can do to protect life and property, click here for NOAA’s Severe Weather 101 page.

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