LOS ANGELES - On Tuesday, the National Weather Service proposed a new wireless system — one that has been in the works since 2012 — for informing the public about the most extreme thunderstorms.
The June 2012 Mid-Atlantic and Midwest Derecho was one of the most destructive thunderstorm complexes in U.S history - inspiring NWS to take action.
“In just a matter of hours, it was just tremendous power outages throughout the entire area,” Mike Gerber, with the National Weather Service, shared. “People were out of power for about a week or so, and it was a massive heatwave. That’s what inspired National Weather Service to take action and activate WEA (Wireless Emergency Alerts) for highest impact severe thunderstorms.”
According to a public announcement issued by NWS, the new product will provide advance notice of damaging wind gusts, large hail and tornadoes that pose a threat to life and property.
While Wireless Emergency Alerts are not a new thing, now they will indicate intensity for thunderstorms — alerting the public when a storm is getting dangerous.
Notices are issued where there is a radar or satellite indication of specific wind and/or hail criteria with either “Considerable” or “Destructive” categories.
"We want people to understand that with 70, 80 mile an hour winds and larger hail you need to know that you can take extra precautions," said Greg Schoor, severe weather forecast leader with the National Weather Service.
Reports must indicate wind gusts of a minimum of 58 mph or greater and/or hail of quarter-size or greater. If winds exist of at least 80 mph and/or baseball-size hail occurs, this will trigger a high-pitched tone on your phone.
“We wouldn’t want to activate WEA for every thunderstorm warning, because there are a lot of severe thunderstorm warnings that go out. There are certain ones where the damage is really going to be destructive, and I know that’s what we’re focusing on with this new initiative,” Gerber said.
This new proposed system aims to convey urgency to the public for the most severe storms.
"I don't want to see any fatalities from severe thunderstorms. It's one of the most preventable weather fatalities that we have," said Schoor. "This will now be in effect to give people more lead time instantly."
The earliest this product would be released would be late this year, due to additional testing and evaluations that need to be completed. However, Schoor says this will be in effect nationwide by Spring of 2021.
NWS says that public feedback and comments are encouraged, which can be submitted in an online survey through July 30.