NWS to send thunderstorm alerts to mobile phones

Lightning storm in Florida
Lightning storm in Florida

The National Weather Services (NWS) will begin sending severe thunderstorm warnings via mobile phone alerts on Aug. 2.

“All National Weather Service Severe Thunderstorm Warnings will continue to be issued and distributed via weather.gov, NOAA Weather Radio, Emergency Alert System and through dissemination systems to our emergency managers and partners,” NWS said in a statement.

But in addition to that notice, any thunderstorm deemed “destructive” will initiate a direct alert to mobile phones within the vicinity of severe thunderstorms, similar to the AMBER Alert system.

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The criteria for a destructive damage threat is “at least 2.75 inch diameter (baseball-sized) hail and/or 80 mph thunderstorm winds,” according to the NWS.

A destructive thunderstorm warning will automatically activate a Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) on smartphones within the warned area.

Local emergency management officials think the move is a good idea.

“It’s good to know when a storm with 80 mph winds associated with it is nearby,” said Alachua County director of Emergency Management Jen Grice. “Certainly any additional notifications or warnings about a dangerous situation is welcomed.”

David Peaton, assistant director of Levy County Emergency Management, agrees.

“It will get life-saving info out as soon as possible,” Peaton said. “Thunderstorms can come up fast, and instead of NWS going through local emergency departments, they can go straight to people, which can potentially save lives.”

According to Peaton, Levy County will receive those notices from the NWS center in Tampa, Alachua County will receive the notice out of the NWS center in Jacksonville, and Dixie County will receive the warnings out of the NWS center in Tallahassee.

In its statement NWC noted that only 10 percent of severe thunderstorms reach the destructive category, so the alerts will go out sparingly.

“The new destructive thunderstorm category conveys to the public [that] urgent action is needed, a life-threatening event is occurring and may cause substantial damage to property,” the statement said. 

For more information about staying safe during severe thunderstorms, visit the NWS website.

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