Attorney Bob Burns already gets a lot of information from his smartphone, but he welcomes the prospect of getting a little more — free warnings about life-threatening weather from a sophisticated new government system.
Beginning Thursday, the new Wireless Emergency Alerts system gives the National Weather Service a new way to warn Americans about menacing weather, even if they are nowhere near a television, radio or storm sirens. It sends blanket warnings to mobile devices in the path of a dangerous storm.
As he sat at a sidewalk cafe in downtown Minneapolis, working on both an iPhone and an iPad, Burns said he was open to getting the unsolicited messages.
“I spend enough time reading junk on my phone that’s of no real benefit to me. I might as well read something useful,” the Minnetonka man said. “It’s putting technology to use for the public good.”
Thursday was a quiet day for severe weather nationwide, so officials did not expect to send any immediate alerts, said Greg Carbin, the warning coordination meteorologist at the national Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.
But in the future, the system will be used to notify people about approaching tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards and other threats. When a warning is issued for a specific county, a text-like message of no more than 90 characters will pop up automatically on the screens of newer smartphones in that area — primarily Android and Windows Phone devices — causing them to sound a special tone and vibrate.
Users do not have to sign up for the service or pay for the message. And people who prefer not to get the warnings can opt out of the system.
Editor’s Note: growing up in Tornado Alley and having already survived one twister, I have downloaded the American Red Cross’ Tornado Warning App. The application is free for Android and iPhone users and can be set to receive weather alerts for specific zip codes. For example, I have my app set up to alert me not only when a tornado warning is issued for my zip code in the western part of Wise County, but also for when a warning is issued for my mother’s zip code in eastern Wise. In the event of a tornado, the app will automatically sound, producing a loud, ominous siren mimicking a traditional tornado siren. This feature will activate regardless of the phone’s volume setting. Given the unpredictable and often volatile nature of Texas’ weather, I recommend this app to everyone.