Local NWS forecast offices outline warnings for tornadoes and severe thunderstorms in polygonal shapes for map-based weather hazard products distributed to the main agency, individual forecast office websites and the Storm Prediction Center (including open-source APIs available for free use to public weather websites and mobile apps), based on the storm's projected path as determined by Doppler radar at the time of the warning's issuance. In NWS text products, warnings are usually illustrated by individual counties, parishes or other county-equivalent jurisdictions (sections or the entirety thereof, and in list format if it covers more than one jurisdiction), particularly dependent on the jurisdiction's total land area. Prior to October 2007, warnings were issued by the National Weather Service on a per-county basis. SPC and NWS products as well as severe weather alert displays used by some television stations typically highlight severe thunderstorm warnings with a yellow or orange polygon or filled county/parish/equivalent jurisdiction outline.
In the United States, the National Weather Service (NWS) defines a severe thunderstorm as having large hail of one inch (2.5 cm) in diameter or larger, surface wind speeds of 58 mph (50 kn; 93 km/h) or greater, and/or a tornado. Prior to January 2010, the hail size for which a thunderstorm would be considered severe was 0.75 inches (1.9 cm); public complacency due to overly frequent issuances of severe thunderstorm warnings and recent studies stating hail did not produce significant damage on the ground until it reached one inch in diameter caused the upgrade in hail criteria. Severe thunderstorm warnings are issued by the National Weather Service through the agency's local Weather Forecast Offices, which utilize WarnGen software integrated into the Advance Weather Interactive Processing System (AWIPS) to generate the warning statement; it is then disseminated through various communication routes accessed by the media and various agencies, on the internet, to NOAA satellites, over NOAA Weather Radio and, depending on the storm's severity and at the office's discretion, via activation of the Emergency Alert System to local broadcast media and Wireless Emergency Alerts for cellular phones.
On August 19, 2019 at 1:31 a.m. MDT, the National Weather Service in Cheyenne, Wyoming incorporated the "emergency" wording into a Severe Thunderstorm Warning. In this instance, the "severe thunderstorm emergency" statement was included to denote that three-inch (7.6 cm) diameter hail (as confirmed by storm spotter reports) was imminent in portions of Scotts Bluff, Banner and Sioux Counties in Nebraska, specifically areas around the towns of Scottsbluff and Gering.
Since April 28, 2021, the NWS has added categorical damage threat indicators for higher-end hail and/or wind events at the bottom of text products for severe thunderstorm warnings (including update statements to existing warnings issued as Severe Weather Statements):