MADISON (WKOW) -- Not all severe thunderstorms are created equally, and the National Weather Service has a new tool to give you a better idea of what exact weather is headed your way.
Starting August 2, the NWS will break down severe thunderstorm warnings into three categories based on how serious their damage is expected to be.
The highest level is the "destructive damage threat." For the NWS to choose that category for a story, there has to be a threat of hail with a diameter of at least 2.75 inches, which is about the size of a baseball, or winds of at least 80 MPH.
If a storm falls into that category, a Wireless Emergency Alert will go out to all smartphones in the area. The alert will be similar to alerts that go out for tornado warnings. The message will say how long the warning lasts and what you can do to stay safe as the storm rolls through.
"The new destructive thunderstorm category conveys to the public urgent action is needed, a life-threatening event is occurring and may cause substantial damage to property," the NWS said.
The NWS said an average of 10% of severe thunderstorms across the country reach the destructive level each year.
Alerts won't go out for severe thunderstorm warnings in less damaging categories, like the "considerable damage threat."
For the NWS to choose this category for a storm, there has to be a threat of hail with a diameter of at least 1.75 inches, about the size of a golf ball, or 70 MPH winds.
If the NWS issues a severe thunderstorm warning without a damage threat tag, the storm falls into the third category: a "base severe thunderstorm warning."
You don't have to register to get the new emergency alerts for destructive severe thunderstorms. The alerts will automatically go out to all smartphones in the area under the warning.