emergency alert

Starting Monday, severe thunderstorms deemed destructive will activate an alert on smartphones, like the example shown above.

CUMBERLAND — A collaboration of the federal government and cellphone service providers has created a warning mechanism to alert communities of approaching destructive thunderstorms — like the derecho of June 2012.

“Hopefully, it’s technology that the National Weather Service will not have to use a lot,” said Tim Thomas, who has served as the NWS observer in Cumberland since 1965.

The emergency warning communications will be delivered in messages to cellular phones and sound similar to an Amber Alert. They will also be routed to various private company applications and to their social media platforms.

“This is the latest warning alert that has been devised in the evolving of various warning products, starting with tornadoes and flash floods,” said Chris Strong, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service at Sterling, Virginia.

Beginning Monday, the weather service will begin adding a damage threat to its severe thunderstorm warnings — destructive, considerable or base.

The NWS criteria for the designation of base is hail quarter-sized or one-inch diameter and/or winds of 58 mph. Designation as considerable pertains to 1.75-inch diameter hail or golf ball size and/or 70 mph winds.

In the destructive category, thunderstorms could bring hail up to 2.75 inches in diameter or baseball-sized and/or winds of 80 mph or greater.

Such destructive conditions occurred throughout the region in June 2012 when a derecho swept through the Alleghenies and Potomac Highlands, causing widespread damage and power outages. Straight line winds were reportedly measured at upward of 75 mph.

“There were severe thunderstorm warnings posted then but the derecho that went through here nine years ago was on us in a matter of minutes,” Thomas said.

The new storm alerting technology added to severe thunderstorm alerts will give people an instant alert of the impending danger.

“With this advanced, modern technology the warnings will reach people wherever they are — hiking, on the trail, out in the middle of a lake — the message is going to get to them right away once it’s posted,” said Thomas, who is also a retired Allegany County 911 dispatcher.

“This technology will push out lifesaving alert messages to millions of people in seconds,” said Thomas. “It’s a good thing that we have it.”

For more information on the National Weather Service, visit https://www.weather.gov/

Jeff Alderton is a veteran Cumberland Times-News police reporter. To reach him, call/text 304-639-6888, email jlalderton@times-news.com and follow him on Twitter.

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