Imagine you’re driving along the highway and the sky begins to darken. You carry on regardless, expecting fat raindrops to splatter against the windshield any moment. Then a message flashes up on the screen of your smartphone, warning you that a raging tornado is heading your way. What would you do? Pull a U-ie and motor away from the storm to safety or continue along the road and risk driving headlong into a swirling mass of carnage and devastation? The former, I guess.
Now that the National Weather Service’s Weather Emergency Alert (WEA) system is up and running, the above scenario could actually become a reality.
The new system – set up with help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency – could prove a life saver, sending out messages to people in areas where severe weather conditions pose an immediate threat.
The free and automatic service went live on Thursday across the US. Any phone which is WEA-capable will receive a pop-up text message alert from the National Weather Service the moment the data becomes available. Tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, blizzards – the WEA system will have you covered.
Wireless carriers AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile all support the new service, but take note, it doesn’t yet work on all smartphones. Most Android and Windows phones are currently supported, while iOS devices should be compatible from this fall. Contact your wireless provider for further information.
Those who don’t want to be alerted to the possibility of impending doom can opt out of the service, but really, why would you want to do that? Even an off-duty storm chaser might be pleased to hear of a twister on the loose in the area.
The messages will be sent out only from cell towers close to the extreme weather event, allowing the National Weather Service to effectively target their alerts.