Wireless alerts coming mid-spring for storms with extreme wind, very large hail

Certain types of severe weather, including the strong winds seen across eastern Iowa last August, will now get additional alerting capabilities.
Published: Mar. 1, 2021 at 4:49 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Some changes are coming soon to the types of alerts sent by government officials to cell phone users in life-threatening situations.

The National Weather Service recently announced that it would submit alerts for thunderstorms that carry the threat of winds of 80 mph or greater or baseball-sized hail or larger to the Wireless Emergency Alerts system. This would be in addition to alerts already sent for tornado and flash flood warnings.

Had these rules been in place during 2020, emergency alerts would have been sent to cell phones in the path of the August 10 derecho, giving many people another way to receive the warnings issued for the storm with up to 30 to 45 minutes of lead time.

WEA messages are sent to all cell phones that can receive them in an area where life-threatening conditions exist. In addition to weather alerts, the system is used for other disasters, man-made or otherwise, public safety issues, national alerts triggered by the President, and other categories. The messages, similar to a text message, is targeted either to cell phone towers in the affected area and specifically to newer devices with more detailed geographic location capabilities.

The changes to alerting follow other changes to the structure of severe thunderstorm warnings themselves, with additional information about the threat a thunderstorm poses to cause damage included in the warnings.

The changes to the warnings go into effect on April 28, 2021, with the additional alerts beginning sometime soon after that.

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