Emergency weather alerts coming soon to a cell phone near you


(National Weather Service)

Starting any day now, the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) system will go live. That means National Weather Service warnings for dangerous weather, including tornadoes, flash flooding and hurricanes, will be delivered free of charge to many mobile users on major wireless carriers. The alerts will look like text alerts, but use a different technology that is not affected by network congestion.

The WEA system is “location-based,” which means that you only receive alerts relevant to your physical location. In other words, if you travel to another city, you’ll receive alerts for where you are, not back home.

AMBER Alerts and Presidential Alerts during a national emergency will also be deliverd through the WEA system. If you have a WEA-capable phone, you’ll receive alerts unless you opt out (you can’t opt out of Presidential Alerts, however).

Interestingly, the alerts will *not* interrupt phone conversations, but rather will be delayed until a call is finished.


NWS Warnings and the corresponding messages that will be sent out through WEA. (National Weather Service)

Here’s a selection of FAQs on the WEA system from the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va.:

What are WEA messages?

Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) are emergency messages sent by authorized government alerting authorities through your mobile carrier. Government partners include local and state public safety agencies, FEMA, the FCC, the Department of Homeland Security, and the National Weather Service.

What types of weather alerts will be delivered?

*Tsunami Warnings
*Tornado and Flash Flood Warnings
*Hurricane, Typhoon, Dust Storm and Extreme Wind Warnings
*Blizzard and Ice Storm Warnings

Why is this important to me?

Alerts received at the right time can help keep you safe during an emergency. With WEA, alerts can be sent to your mobile device when you may be in harm’s way, without need to download an app or subscribe to a service.

What does a WEA message look like?

WEA will look like a text message. The WEA message will show the type and time of the alert, any action you should take, and the agency issuing the alert. The message will be no more than 90 characters.

What should I do when I receive a WEA message?

Follow any action advised by the emergency message. Seek more details from local media or authorities.

Read the full FAQ here.

Dan Stillman is a meteorologist and editor for the Capital Weather Gang. He earned an M.S. in Meteorology from Texas A&M University, and a B.S. in Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences from the University of Michigan.

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