Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Emergency weather alert system for cell phones far from comprehensive

Just imagine: A tornado touches down in your area, prompting the National Weather Service to issue a warning and then a text message on your cell phone alerts you to the danger.

Though not everyone is aware of it, that system already exists.

As Tropical Storm Andrea strafed the Gulf Coast, at least five tornado warnings were issued between Pinellas and Hillsborough counties in the early morning hours Thursday. Many people received alerts, but not all.

"It's still highly dependent on what smart phone you have," said National Weather Service meteorologist Tyler Fleming. "In time, people's phones more and more will have it."

Those without older cell phones aren't eligible to get alerts, but even millions of people who do have the latest devices can't get the messages.

More than 60 smart phones on the Verizon network — including the iPhone, BlackBerry and Droid — are compatible and should receive the alerts.

AT&T, the nation's other large carrier, offers the service on just 10 devices; iPhone is not one of them. It's unclear why so few are compatible. AT&T officials did not return emails seeking comment Thursday.

As storm-tracking technology has improved in recent years, weather officials have focused their efforts on disseminating information to more people more quickly.

"It's no longer an issue necessarily of us seeing the tornadoes coming. . . . It's an issue of people getting the warning and taking cover when they get the messages," Fleming said.

That, he said, is why it's so important for cell carriers to reach as many people as possible.

According to their websites, both Verizon and AT&T will continue making more devices compatible.

The weather notices, first used last year, are part of a broader cell phone alert network created by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Officials can also disperse AMBER alerts and presidential alerts during national emergencies.

People can opt out of weather or AMBER alert notifications, though the presidential alerts are mandatory.

People who don't have eligible phones, or who believe a text might not wake them, can also buy an emergency weather radio for as low as $15, which will alert them.

Emergency weather alert system for cell phones far from comprehensive 06/06/13 [Last modified: Thursday, June 6, 2013 11:42pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Ernest Hooper: Hillsborough marks 100th anniversary of historic photo collection


    Everyone ends up with a favorite

    Or two or three or 10.

    Rest assured, however, no one who adores Tampa Bay, appreciates art or cherishes history can explore the Burgert Brothers Photographic Collection without storing at least one snapshot in the mental scrapbook.

    Part of the Burgert Brothers collection now featured through the Hillsborough Public Library shows a beer garden on Central Avenue in Tampa from July 1942. [Burgert Brothers collection]
  2. Tonight: St. Petersburg's six City Council candidates face off


    ST. PETERSBURG — Politics took a break in Hurricane Irma, but now it's time for City Council races to get going. The Council of Neighborhood Associations is set to host a candidate forum for the six candidates vying for three council seats at stake in November.

  3. Rick and Tom podcast: Annoyance with the Cubs fans at Tropicana Field

    The Heater

    Tom Jones talks about how he shares Chris Archer's annoyance with all of the Cubs fans at Tropicana Field for Joe Maddon's return in the latest edition of our Rick and Tom podcast.

    "W" flags fly in the stands after the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Rays Tuesday at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]
  4. Oops: Florida Gators sent out wrong 2018 football schedule


    Well this is awkward.

    The Florida Gators, it turns out, released an incorrect 2018 football schedule on Tuesday. What they sent out (and I posted) differed from the master schedule …

  5. Fennelly: Joe Maddon's return must be bittersweet for Rays fans


    If you are a Rays fan, you might have left Tropicana Field a little down on Tuesday night.

    Joe Maddon got out at just the right time, as it turned out, Martin Fennelly writes.