Weather Alerts Created for Cell Phones

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PLEASANT HILL, Mo. -- When bad weather hits your town, weather radios are a direct link to the best information coming straight from the National Weather Service. But only 5-10 percent of Americans have a weather radio. So the government is working on a new and more modern way to get people critical weather information.

People already rely on their cell phones for so much information and take their cell phones with them everywhere they go. So FEMA and the National Weather Service, NWS, wants to be able to use your cell phone to warn you about serious weather concerns in your area.

"That's important if you think about the devastating tornadoes we saw in Joplin," says Andy Bailey with NWS, "the ability to reach everybody, letting them know a tornado is on the way would be a huge advantage."

Starting sometime in June, emergency alerts will be sent directly from the National Weather Service to your cell phone for free. Bailey says the NWS will only send the most critical alerts: tornado warnings, flash floods, blizzard warnings, and ice storm warnings.

"If people get too many alerts that aren't a factor to them or don't pose a threat to property they tend to disregard them," says Bailey, "it's like the boy who cried wolf."

The Wireless Emergency Alert will only work on certain cell phones, usually newer model smart phones that have come out in the last year or so. That's only about 5-10 percent of cell phones currently in use. But as more and more people upgrade to newer phones, eventually everyone with a cell phone can be on the alert.

The service is free and automatic, but you can opt out if you want. If you aren't sure if your cell phone can get these alerts call your provider to ask.

If your phone isn't compatible, there are weather apps you can sign up for, like Weather Bug and iMap Weather Radio. But the National Weather Service warns: don't rely exclusively on those because alerts from those apps can often be delayed by five or even ten minutes, which is enough time to be dangerous.

The NWS says while these cell phone alerts are a great help, don't throw away your weather radio, because you can still use it in case storms knock out cell service.

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