Starting Thursday, the U.S. National Weather Service will broadcast weather alerts to smartphones. Severe weather warnings, such as tornadoes, hurricanes, and snow blizzards will be sent via a text message in 90 characters or less. Cellular subscribers for all four major U.S. network operators will receive the messages although initially AT&T (s t) is limiting the service to three markets.
Consumers will automatically be enrolled in the service, but can opt-out. There is no charge for the received text warning, even for customers that don’t pay for a messaging plan or pay per text.
In order to strike a balance between too much and not enough information, the NWS won’t send alerts for weather watches, which are only potential weather events. Instead, alerts are limited to warnings only; events that are mainly certain to happen in specific areas. No alerts will be sent for severe thunderstorm warnings as those are fairly common.
Sprint(s s), Verizon(s vz)(s vod) and T-Mobile have enabled the system nationwide, but for now AT&T is limiting it to New York City, Washington, D.C., and Portland, Ore, with expansion plans in the future. Most modern smartphones are already equipped for the system, although iPhones(s aapl) aren’t yet part of the program.
I like the idea here as it’s useful, informative, free and can help save lives. More of our news and information is coming from the device we have with us, not the radio or TV that we may or may not be paying attention to. And with more than half of the U.S. population owning a smartphone — and more joining those ranks every day — the connected handset may be the best venue for this important information.