Weather Wednesday: Closer look at the weather alerts our cellphones get

In this weeks Weather Wednesday, StormTRACKER Meteorologist Jesse Ritka explains what the Wireless Emergency Alert System is and why their alerts sometimes pop up on our phone.

Phone with weather alert
A Wireless Emergency Alert System notification showing on a cell phone. Credit: National Weather Service

You may have had your cell phone sound the alarm for a Silver Alert, Amber Alert or for tornado warnings.

These warnings on your phone are triggered by the Wireless Emergency Alert system.

The Wireless Emergency Alert system, called WEA, has been around for nearly a decade.

It is part of a nation-wide public safety system allowing government officials, like the National Weather Service, to send emergency messages to your cell phone if you are in a potential life threatening situation.

In the midwest alerts would sound for a tornado warning, flash flood warning or a snow squall warning.


Now any severe thunderstorm capable of producing destructive damage, meaning baseball size hail or 80 mile per hour wind gusts will automatically active the WEA alert on smartphone near that dangerous storm.

That’s what happened on August 23rd, near Aberdeen, South Dakota for a severe thunderstorm which produced a 90 mile an hour wind gust.

Folks in Day and Marshall County received an alert about the storm’s damage potential ahead of the storm itself.

Don’t worry though, your phone won’t be buzzing every other moment. On average, only 10% of all severe storms reach the “destructive” category across the US and you can opt to turn these alerts off.

WEA uses radio technology to broadcast the message from cell phone towers to your phone if you are in a warned area.

That means that even if you are traveling you will still be alerted if you drive into a warned area.

If you head far out of state, you may even get alerts for tsunami warnings, hurricane warnings, storm surges, extreme wind warnings, and dust storm warnings so no matter where you are, you can be aware of dangerous weather.

More information can be found HERE and HERE .

Jesse Ritka is a StormTracker meteorologist and holds the AMS Certified Broadcast Meteorologist seal of approval.

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