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Certain Severe Thunderstorm Warnings will trigger a Wireless Emergency Alert on smartphones

If a Severe Thunderstorm Warning gets a “destructive” tag, a WEA will be triggered
This is a shelf cloud, an indicator of a severe thunderstorm.
This is a shelf cloud, an indicator of a severe thunderstorm.(NWS)
Published: Jul. 29, 2021 at 8:03 AM CDT|Updated: Jul. 29, 2021 at 8:26 AM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Beginning August 2nd there will be a new tiered system used by the National Weather Service when it comes to Severe Thunderstorm Warnings.

Instead of the one size fits all Severe Thunderstorm Warning that we’re accustomed to, the NWS will add a “damage threat” tag to every single warning issued. This is similar to the way Tornado Warnings and Flash Flood Warnings are handled.

New NWS Severe Thunderstorm Warning criteria and thresholds.
New NWS Severe Thunderstorm Warning criteria and thresholds.(WSFA 12 News)

The three threat categories are “base”, “considerable” and “destructive”. Each will come with its own description of what to expect with the severe thunderstorm affecting your area.

The goal is to better alert the public of the threats and their severity when it comes to severe thunderstorms. By using the threat category system, you will have a better idea of just how severe an incoming storm will be.

If a severe thunderstorm gets labeled as "destructive" a WEA will be sent out to all...
If a severe thunderstorm gets labeled as "destructive" a WEA will be sent out to all smartphones in the polygon beginning August 2nd.(WSFA 12 News)

The hope is more people will take severe thunderstorms seriously when a “considerable” or “destructive” tag is applied to the warning’s text.

And that will almost certainly be true now for those warnings that receive the “destructive” tag because all warnings with this tag will automatically activate a Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA).

The WEA will pop up on all smartphones within the Severe Thunderstorm Warning polygon as soon as the warning is issued by the National Weather Service.

Beginning August 2nd a Wireless Emergency Alert will be sent out to smartphones within severe...
Beginning August 2nd a Wireless Emergency Alert will be sent out to smartphones within severe thunderstorm warning polygons if the warning is tagged as "destructive."(WSFA 12 News/NWS)

This is identical to the alert you receive if you’re located in a Tornado Warning or Flash Flood Warning with a “considerable” or “catastrophic” tag. More on the Flash Flood Warning tiered system can be found by clicking here.

So if a severe thunderstorm is set to impact your location and is deemed “destructive”, your phone will alert you whether or not you want to pay attention. If you receive one of these WEA notifications for a Severe Thunderstorm Warning it means you should seek shelter immediately as hail to the size of baseballs and/or damaging wind gusts to 80+ mph are imminent.

“The new destructive thunderstorm category conveys to the public urgent action is needed, a life-threatening event is occurring and may cause substantial damage to property,” per the press release.

Only about 10% of severe thunderstorms reach the “destructive” threshold in a given a year, and it’s even more rare for Alabama to see storms that meet the “destructive” criteria as baseball size hail and 80+ mph winds are a bit harder to get down here.

Put simply, if a Severe Thunderstorm Warning with the “destructive” tag -- and even a “considerable” tag -- deserves the same attention as a Tornado Warning.

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