A new emergency cell phone alert could save your life during severe weather

U.S. and World

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — We’ve all received emergency alerts to our phones – “tornado warning issued for our area.” But what about when a severe thunderstorm could be just as life-threatening? 

The National Weather Service (NWS) is launching a new alert that will keep you safer when dangerous storms strike.   

Starting Monday, Aug. 2, the NWS will begin using a three-tier warning system for severe thunderstorm warnings. For storms deemed “destructive,” with winds 80 mph or greater and baseball-sized hail, the NWS will send an emergency alert to your phone. 

Jeff Orrock, the Meteorologist In Charge at the National Weather Service office in Wakefield told 8News his team works to monitor storms and issue warnings when they reach severe criteria. 

Up until now, there was just one severe thunderstorm warning. The base criterion for that warning is what the NWS has always used which is about 60 mph wind, or quarter-sized hail. 

But now, there will be three tiers to help us better understand the threats. 

 “We’ve always issued severe thunderstorm warnings, but the problem has been, it covers everything from just a 60mph wind that may knock down a few trees to a derecho that we had several years ago that came through in June and just widespread damage and destruction in some areas,” Orrock explained.   

Starting Monday, the National Weather Service will consider a thunderstorm “considerable” when it has winds of 70 mph and golf ball-sized hail and “destructive” with winds greater than 80 mph and baseball-sized hail. When “destructive” storms are in the area, an emergency alert will be sent to your phone.  

“And just like when you receive a tornado warning on a cell phone and you get that blast, that alert, the destructive severe thunderstorm warning will also send a blast out to the cell phones through the emergency alerts, so you’ll get it,” Orrock added.   

Orrock said that even though we have this new tool to help warn us of particularly dangerous storms, they are still rare, so your phone won’t be going off for every severe storm. 

“I bet you we could go a year or two or more without seeing one because a lot of our severe thunderstorms in this neck of the woods are that 60-70mph wind genre,” Orrock said. 

And while you can opt out of these emergency alerts through your cell phone carrier, Orrock warns that these alerts could save lives. “When your cell phone goes off, it’s going to be for a pretty high-end significant event,” he said.   

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