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Severe Thunderstorm Warnings with ‘destructive’ tags to be sent to smartphones

Published: Jul. 28, 2021 at 7:52 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 3, 2021 at 3:36 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - In a way to grab attention of higher-level thunderstorms that can bring destructive damage, new tagging of severe thunderstorm warnings would trigger alerts on smartphones starting nationally Aug. 2, according to NOAA.

It’s a weather warning the Big Bend and South Georgia receives frequently either from thunderstorms associated with either large-scaled organized storm systems or sea breeze setups. When the National Weather Service detects a thunderstorm on Doppler radar with wind speeds of at least 58 mph or higher and/or hail of at least an inch in diameter, a severe thunderstorm warning is then issued.

In a way to better define the strength of these severe thunderstorms, the National Weather Service plans to label them using a new tiered system. The first one is the baseline that has the aforementioned severe-storm criteria. Next on the list is “considerable,” with wind speeds of at least 70 mph and/or 1.75-inch hail. The third and highest tag is “destructive,” which has winds of at least 80 mph and/or 2.75-inch hail.

Severe thunderstorm warnings, issued by the National Weather Service, will be sent with tags...
Severe thunderstorm warnings, issued by the National Weather Service, will be sent with tags highlighting the strength of the storms with the highest, "destructive," being sent to smartphones starting Aug. 2, 2021.(Ryan Kaufman & Charles Roop / WCTV)

The “destructive” tag would trigger the push of a Wireless Emergency Alert, the same federal system that is used to disseminate tornado warnings and AMBER alerts.

“We feared that folks may not be as responsive as we need them to be,” said Mark Wool, the Warning Coordination Meteorologist at the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Tallahassee. “So, this is just another way to raise awareness for these higher-end threats.”

But these higher-threshold severe warnings are fairly rare in the viewing area, according to Wool. But he said there could be around two higher-tag warnings issued per year.

“You really need an organized severe weather like derechos,” he said. “They are more common up north, but you can get them down here.” ,

One example of a derecho, a long-track thunderstorm complex with damaging winds, is the one that moved through parts of Iowa and Illinois in August 2020. Winds as high as 120 mph were associated with that system as it caused at least $7 billion in damage and killed four people. The derecho also damaged millions of acres of crops.

As for what to do when a warning is issued, Wool says it’s adding more layers from the outside world.

“You certainly don’t want to be outside looking at the storm,” he said. “You want to be in an interior room, kind of similar to what you use for tornadoes.”

It’s also best not to stay in a car, said Wool, since people have died from falling trees and limbs onto occupied cars.

Locally, because of severe weather, the use of the “destructive” tag in the WEAs will be delayed until Thursday, Aug. 5 according to an email from Wool.

It’s important to take severe thunderstorm warnings seriously, especially the destructive ones.

This story was updated to reflect the local delay in rolling out severe thunderstorm warning tags for Weather Emergency Alerts.

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