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National Weather Service alerts coming to smartphones

Smartphone users will soon get a severe weather alert from the National Weather Service. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

(CBS News) Smartphone users will soon get a severe weather alert from the National Weather Service - a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Called the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), the new nationwide emergency alert system sends 90-character text messages to smartphones of people facing extreme weather conditions. Severe weather defined by the NOAA include: tornadoes, flash floods, hurricanes, extreme wind, blizzards and ice storms, tsunamis, and dust storms. Note that thunderstorms are not on the list because they occur so frequently.

The text messages will pop up on smartphones, but are not traditional text messages. Because the alert system will be on smartphones, the signals will be triangulated so that weather alerts will be localizes. The NOAA uses the example of a person from New Jersey traveling to California during an earthquake - that person would get an "Imminent Threat Alert" text message. 

Only smartphones that are enabled to receive WEA messages will get the messages. Wireless carriers who support the service include: AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile, Bluegrass Cellular, Cellcom and U.S. Cellular. Check with individual carriers for coverage, as some do not offer nationwide service.

WEA messages aren't exclusively weather related - smartphone owners will also get emergency alerts from the Federal Emergency Management System (FEMA), Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Department of Homeland Security and local and state public agencies.

More information about the weather alerts can be found at the NOAA website.