Aug 16, 2021
They don’t happen often, but when they do your mobile phone should let you know.
Starting this month the National Weather Service has activated a “Destructive” Severe Thunderstorm Warning category that will trigger Wireless Emergency Alerts on mobile phones. Mobile phone alerts will not be triggered by two lesser categories of thunderstorm activity.
“It’s a compromise,” said John Paul Martin, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Bismarck. “We don’t alert on every single one, but the higher ends ones.”
A thunderstorm considered to be a threat for destructive damage is one in which baseball-sized hail and 80 mile per hour winds can be expected. A storm of that severity would automatically activate a Wireless Emergency Alert, or WEA, on smartphones within the warning area.
No mobile phone alerts will occur for lesser storms that fall into the “considerable” or “baseline” guidelines of the NWS. However, while not considered as severe as a “destructive” thunderstorm, they can still contain golf ball-sized hail and winds of up to 70 mph.
“We issue many of those so your phone would be alarming all the time. Sixty mph winds and one-inch hail is fairly common,” explained Martin. “This is about the higher end storms, just like flash flood and tornado warnings.”
Historically, destructive category thunderstorms account for roughly 5% of all warnings issued by the Bismarck office of the NWS. Now, when the threat of a destructive thunderstorm is imminent, the NWS will disseminate the information quickly via smartphones.
“We can reach you in a heartbeat with the communication system we have,” remarked Martin.
The alerts are automatic with no need for smartphone users to install a special App to receive them.
The NWS also plays a role in assisting other agencies in emergency-type situations, such as when the Highway Patrol determines an Amber Alert is warranted.
“We’re the messenger for those but it’s not our message,” said Martin. “The NWS can help get the word out with our information system.”
As of this month, “destructive” thunderstorm warnings have been added to the list.
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