New thunderstorm warning will alert smartphone users when ‘destructive’ weather is threatening

Storms with golf ball sized hail will trigger alert

Level of hail severity

ORLANDO, Fla. – In Central Florida, strong to severe thunderstorms can happen at any time of the year. It could be tracked along a strong cold front, embedded in a feeder band of a tropical system, or even develop during the collision of our daily afternoon sea breezes.

Within these more hazardous storms comes the risk for tornadoes, large hail, lightning and even flash flooding.

Starting on Aug. 2 the National Weather Service will better convey the severity and potential impacts of thunderstorm winds and hail, by adding a “damage threat” tag to severe thunderstorm warnings, similar to Tornado and Flash Flood Warnings. Warnings with this tag will automatically activate a Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) on smartphones within the warned area.

Warnings with this tag will automatically activate a Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) on smartphones within the warned area.

Sample of the automatic alert that will activate the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) on smartphones within the warned area.

What qualifies as a “Destructive” and “Considerable” Damage Threat?

The National Weather Service developed three categories of damage threat for Severe Thunderstorm Warnings. They state that the categories go in order of highest to lowest damage threat and are designed to promote immediate action, based on the specific threats.

  • Destructive damage: There is a threat of at least 2.75-inch diameter (baseball-sized) hail and/or 80 mph winds. This tag will activate an “WEA” to smartphones.
  • Considerable damage: There is a threat of at least 1.75-inch diameter (golf ball-sized) hail and/or 70 mph winds. This tag will NOT activate a WEA.
  • Baseline damage: There is a threat of 1.00-inch (quarter-sized) hail and/or 58 mph winds. This will NOT activate a WEA. With this category, damage is expected to be at the base level.

To be alerted with ALL types of significant weather in your area, you can download the free Pinpoint Weather App from the app store.

How to get these alerts on your smartphone

Right now, most smartphones will send you notification to your phone alerting you of certain information. These alerts can range from Amber Alerts to tornado warnings.

Apple:

  1. Go to Settings
  2. Notifications
  3. Scroll to the very bottom to the “Government Alerts” portion
  4. And toggle Public Safety Alerts to the “On” position (make sure it turns green)

Android:

  1. From any Home screen, tap the Apps icon.
  2. Tap Messaging.
  3. Tap the Menu key and then tap Settings.
  4. Tap Emergency alerts.
  5. For the following alerts, tap the alert to select the check box and turn on or clear the check box and turn off: Imminent extreme alert. Imminent severe alert. AMBER alerts.
Level of hail severity

How often do these types of storms occur in Central Florida?

On average, only 10% of all severe thunderstorms reach the destructive category each year, nationwide. And that percentage shrinks considerably across Central Florida.

Across our viewing area, we tend to see just a handful of these potentially “destructive” storms annually. These types of severe thunderstorms could be found anytime of the year here in Florida.

The last memorable storm that reached the “destructive” damage criteria was in May 2020. During this event, hail ranging from quarters to bigger than baseballs fell in Orange and Seminole County. The most impressive report was 3-inch sized hail in Sanford.

For those wondering, although hail that big is exceptionally rare, it is possible. The record for the Sunshine State still stands at 4.5 inches. This grapefruit-size hail has been observed on three occasions in Florida; in Polk County in March of 1996, Bradford County in March of 2003 and in Marion County on May 13, 2007.

For more information about how hail happens click here.


About the Author:

Candace joined the News 6 team as the weekend morning meteorologist and reporter. She comes to Central Florida from Miami.