National Weather Service alerts headed to smartphones

Live in an area prone to tornadoes, flash floods, hurricanes, extreme wind, ice storms, and the like? Your smartphone can't change the extreme weather, but it can alert you to it.

Smartphone users will soon get a severe weather alert from the National Weather Service. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Live in an area prone to flash floods, hurricanes, blizzards? Smartphone users will soon get a severe-weather alert from the National Weather Service, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The new nationwide emergency alert system, called the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), sends 90-character text messages to smartphones of people facing extreme weather conditions. Severe weather defined by the NOAA includes tornadoes, flash floods, hurricanes, extreme wind, blizzards and ice storms, tsunamis, and dust storms. Note that thunderstorms aren't on the list because they occur so frequently.

The text messages will pop up on smartphones, but they aren't traditional text messages. Because the alert system will be on smartphones, the signals will be triangulated so that weather alerts will be localized. The NOAA uses the example of a person from New Jersey traveling to California during an earthquake. That person would get an "Imminent Threat Alert" text message.

Only smartphones enabled to receive WEA messages will get them. Wireless carriers that support the service include AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile, Bluegrass Cellular, Cellcom, and U.S. Cellular. Check with individual carriers for coverage, as some do not offer nationwide service.

WEA messages aren't exclusively weather related; smartphone owners will also get emergency alerts from the Federal Emergency Management System (FEMA), Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Department of Homeland Security, and local and state public agencies.

This story originally appeared on CBSNews.com.

About the author

Chenda Ngak is CBSNews.com's Science & Technology Editor.

 

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