July 13, 2012

Tweeting Twisters: Mobile Alerts are Critical in Bad Weather


Back in the day, natives of the Midwest had to physically sense the implications of certain wind currents to know when to shelter underground or evacuate from a town. Others had to live in earshot of city sirens. But twisters and other signs of bad weather have met their match in something that couldn’t have a more fitting place in even the most stubbornly primitive individual’s wellbeing: technology.

We’re not in Kansas anymore.

It’s easy to find exceptions to the value of mobile Internet – not the least of which is to remember how to do things without a digital right hand – but severe storms may be the one context without that grey area.

A hurricane, tornado or electrical storm can kill without warning…literally; remote alert systems are often the only thing standing between a rural resident’s safety and his or her imprisonment in a storm that catches them too far from home.

Fortunately, the wicked witch of the west doesn’t update her iPhone as often as those with subscriptions from a few reputable names in mobile weather services:

WeatherBug is a veteran of the real-time weather community, updating users of changes in temp and precipitation since it was just an icon on your desktop. Nowadays, the company offers a host of text notifications based on ZIP codes for up to 23 different types of weather conditions. All major carriers currently support SMS-based alerts by WeatherBug, which boasts an application available on Apple and Android app stores as well.

The Weather Channel, and its online hub, weather.com, is another obvious one, though touts a number of other opportunities mobile users can take advantage of, including its own smartphone app for both Apple and Android, as well as two forms of SMS alert subscriptions for Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile. Text notifications are free excluding data rates through the phone company.

Both companies also have Twitter accounts users can follow for more general feeds about conditions in their neighborhood.

In an effort by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Government has spent the last few years coming around to their own initiative to keep citizens up to date on climate during situations classified as “the most dangerous emergencies,” according to the Hartford Courant, through text on behalf of the National Weather Service. Not everyone is capable of receiving these messages, however, limiting the program to only select devices and regions of the country.

“We don’t recommend people relying on this as a sole source of weather information,” Susan Buchanan, spokesperson for The National Weather Service, told the Courant. “This enhances people’s abilities to get weather warnings, especially on the go.”

She’s right in more ways than one; depending on where you live, typical weather conditions necessitate a myriad of different safety nets.

Citizens should therefore use WeatherBug, weather.com and the Federal Government as models by which to render their own system of protection. Chances are Colorado won’t need as many tornado warnings as Oklahoma, and Florida will probably require more widespread hurricane updates than Illinois.

Regardless of the platform, modern technology couldn’t have a more critical position than when it relates to the one thing we can’t control. With all the free services out there, it never hurts to be prepared.




Edited by Brooke Neuman



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