Ever wake-up from a deep sleep at 3am to find your cell phone vibrating and buzzing alerting you of a flash flood threat …only to find out the threat doesn’t impact you? The National Weather Service is rolling out changes to the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) to feature more details about flood threats and only signal an alarm when more specific criteria is met.
This month, all NWS forecast offices are rolling out Flash Flood Warnings in the new format; additionally, wireless alerts will only be sent for flash flood warnings where a life-threatening flood event is occurring and urgent action is needed. Warnings with a damage threat tag of either “considerable” or “catastrophic” will trigger a wireless alert. Considerable flood events are significantly life-threatening and may cause substantial damage to property. Catastrophic events are violent flash floods that extraordinarily threaten lives and cause disastrous damage. The new tags will help reduce the number of flash flood warning Wireless Emergency Alerts currently distributed.
While this new set-up will reduce extraneous cell phone alerts, all National Weather Service flash flood warnings will still be issued and distributed via NOAA’s websites and weather radio, through Emergency Alert Systems, and through dissemination systems to emergency managers and partners.
“We listened to the public who voiced concern that there were too many flash flood Wireless Emergency Alerts,” Mary Mullusky, Branch Chief, of National Weather Service Water Resources Service said. “In the future, if you receive a flash flood warning wireless alert, you need to take immediate life-saving action. We are reserving flash flood wireless alerts for the most life-threatening events.”
According to the National Weather Service, flash floods are among nature’s most common and destructive natural hazards. Flash floods generally develop within minutes to hours of the immediate cause and bring a damaging and life-threatening rapid rise of water into a normally dry area. Causes of flash flooding include heavy rain, river ice or debris jams, and levee or dam failure.
“We’re always looking for ways to improve how we communicate a flash flood threat. The changes to our flash flood warnings simplify the text to more clearly tell people what the hazard is and what impacts are expected so they can take appropriate action,” said Mullusky. “This is another step in our effort to build a Weather Ready Nation. In February 2017, NOAA announced that Weatherboy became an official Weather Ready Nation Ambassador.