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New Weather Warnings For Cell Phones

No matter when or where you might find yourself in dangerous weather, your cell phone may be able to tell you about it. This new life-saving warning system works automatically, enabled by technology that’s included on newer mobile devices.

The new weather messages are part of the broader Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) initiative. Designed in conjunction with the National Weather Service, other federal agencies, and the major cell phone carriers, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Weather Service is one of many agencies authorized to send emergency alerts to cell phones through this new system.

When the National Weather Service issues a tornado warning, flash flood warning, or other potentially deadly storm warnings, cell phone towers within that area broadcast a special signal. WEA-enabled devices then vibrate in a special pattern and sound a special tone; a short message appears with information about the local weather.

When you are within range of a cell phone tower for a warned area, your phone will receive the message. WEA messages go to all active mobile devices that are capable of receiving the signal that are within range of the specific cell phone towers in the path of a storm.

Although the warning message you see looks like a typical text message, it gets there through a completely different kind of technology called the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) and does not count against the data limits in your plan. Even if you do not have a text messaging service plan, these special warnings will be displayed on your WEA-enabled device. There is no charge for WEA messages.

WEA messages are not meant to replace other vital weather information. Joe Sullivan, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Louisville, says, “You should never have only one source for weather information. WEA messages should be your prompt to take action to save your life, and to check for more details from local radio or TV stations, NOAA weather radio, or Internet resources.”

To find out if your cell phone is WEA-enabled, contact your wireless service provider.

For general information about the new cell phone warnings, visit CTIA The Wireless Association online at www.ctia.org and look for “Wireless Emergency Alerts on Your Mobile Device” or search “Wireless Emergency Alerts” to find FAQ links.

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