The storm that the National Weather Service considers “devastating” will trigger an emergency alert on smartphones as part of the agency’s efforts for people to protect themselves during severe weather, the agency said Thursday.
The weather service sends mobile alerts about storms, tornadoes and other conditions, and, starting next month, it plans to add destructive thunderstorms to that list.
A “catastrophic” severe thunderstorm, according to the agency, is one that contains hail the size of a baseball or winds of at least 80 mph. These storms can rip shingles off roofs or send branches crashing onto homes, said Greg Schur, a severe weather program manager at the National Weather Service in Oklahoma.
The agency’s local offices can triangulate all cellphones in an area and send an alert when forecasters see a dangerous storm is approaching. Alerts often come without much time.
Mr Schur said the agency chose to tag these storms as “catastrophic” because the term is often used in hurricane reports. The agency already has separate tags for classifying tornadoes and flash floods.
“We really just want people to pay attention,” Mr Schur said in an interview on Thursday.
The agency hopes the “disastrous” tag will make people realize that they should take measures to protect themselves. The mobile alerts will include Spanish translations and advise people to seek shelter or avoid certain areas.
The agency hasn’t sent out an alert about strong thunderstorms in the past, but Mr Schur said it was important for people to know if “something really bad will happen,” whether it’s rain, hail or strong winds.
“We basically want you to do whatever you can to help protect your own life in that moment,” he said.
Severe thunderstorms can result in a variety of hazards, including tornadoes, floods and derechos, which are severe thunderstorms that can move rapidly across the landscape.
A powerful derecho ripped through the Midwest in August, bringing with it 100-mph winds and widespread power outages.
Thirteen of the 22 most costly weather disasters last year were severe storms, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Other disasters include last year’s wildfires in the west and heat waves in the western part of the country.
The Weather Service’s new warning category comes as the United States sees an increase in the frequency of extreme rain as the planet warms.
It is not possible to make an immediate connection between a heavy rain and climate change. In the coming weeks or months, climate scientists may attempt to do what is known as an attribution study.
But as warming continues, the United States and other parts of the world are likely to see an increase in storms as warming continues. One root cause is that warm air holds more moisture, resulting in heavy rains.