What to Know: NWS updates severe storm warning alerts

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Published: Sep. 22, 2022 at 1:57 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - The National Weather Service has updated its severe thunderstorm warning alerts to warn those in the immediate path of a dangerous storm.

Clay County Emergency Management says on Thursday, Sept. 22, the National Weather Service recently changed how it issues Severe Thunderstorm Warnings and it hopes to clarify some of the confusion.

Instead of all dangerous thunderstorms receiving the same type of warning notification, CCEM said now only the most dangerous storms will include an “Impact Based” warning which focuses on the expected impacts of the storm.

CCEM noted that the highest level of storms will be categorized as “Considerable” or “Destructive.” It said storms that are severe enough to expect those kinds of damages will automatically trigger a Wireless Emergency Alert issued by the NWS Office.

As a reminder, CCEM said that WEA is the same system used for Amber Alerts and Silver Alerts. It said the alert sent by the NWS will be sent to all cell phones interacting with towers in the mapped region of concern. This means an entire warning area may not receive the WEA notification of the dangerous storm, only those in the path of serious destruction.

For example, CCEM said if the entire southwest corner of Clay County is in a Severe Thunderstorm Warning and the NWS anticipates that Oak Hill and Idana will have 80 mph winds or baseball-sized hail, phones in those immediate areas will get a WEA while phones in Longford and Clay Center may not.

CCEM indicated that this means if your cellphone sounds with a WEA alarm with dangerous thunderstorm information, you may be in danger and should seek shelter immediately.

However, the agency warned that the alert should not be confused with regular weather notification apps that may already be downloaded that alert for watches or warnings. It said the distinctive WEA message for a tornado or dangerous storm means only one thing - you are close to a dangerous storm and should take immediate action.

CCEM noted that the change should not cause issues of over-warnings. While severe storm warnings can seem to be a frequent event in Tornado Alley, storms that reach the Considerable or Destructive categories do not happen frequently and affect relatively small areas.

According to the agency, the change has already gone into effect.