Blog Post

Today’s forecast: Weather alerts on your smartphone

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.

3 Responses to “Today’s forecast: Weather alerts on your smartphone”

  1. I do not need to know about flash flood warnings at 1:00am. I did not buy a smartphone so that the government could harass me when I am trying to sleep.
    I disabled all I could – for my Droid Incredible it’s in the text message settings – but “Presidential Alerts” can’t be disabled. I better not be harassed by the President, I’ll switch back to my old eV.

  2. Stuart

    I’m trying to find out how this is different than the ability to receive cellular broadcast built into many GSM phones. It appears to work on something similar to that but after trying to find out more information on what devices will actually work with it, it seems there is no comprehensive list and only carrier devices are mentioned. Since it is tower-based will it work with roaming sims? The iPhone doesn’t support cellular broadcast which Japan uses for tsunami warnings and can be a problem.