The National Weather Service has dropped blizzard and ice storm warnings from the wireless weather alerts that it issues via cellphones.
The move, which went into effect this month, was made to protect the sense of urgency that such warnings provide, said Mike Gerber, who coordinates the program for the weather service.
When a warning is issued, cellphones emit an alarm and provide information in a text message. (The messages are free, no charges can be levied).
Blizzards tend to develop over a couple of days, so it's not uncommon for a warning to be issued at night about a storm that's a day or two away.
That creates the potential for an alert that tells the public about something it doesn't immediately need to worry about.
“We don't want to desensitize the public,” Gerber said.
The national alert system has been in place since April 2012.
It can issue three types of warnings:
» Presidential alerts: For national emergencies.
» Imminent threats: Sudden dangers such as earthquakes, tornadoes and flash floods. This is the category that had included blizzards and ice storms.
» Amber alerts: Public notification of a child abduction.
The alerts are a standard feature on most new cellphones and do not require signing up. People can opt out of most warnings, including Amber Alerts, but cannot opt out of national emergency alerts.
The cellphone industry and federal government are evaluating additional changes in the system.
Should it, for example, be expanded to include links, and should local meteorologists have discretion over what they send?
Gerber said the warnings already have saved lives.
A Connecticut soccer coach evacuated youths from a dome after receiving a tornado warning on her phone.
About two minutes after she escorted the children to a sturdier building, the tornado destroyed the dome, Gerber said. More than 30 children and adults had been in the dome.
A tornado tore through Elmira, N.Y., on a July afternoon in 2012, damaging more than 2,000 structures. No one died or was seriously hurt. Many people credited the alert with prompting them to seek safety.
Here's how you can see if your phone came with the alerts function:
Android phone: Check the applications list.
iPhone: Check notification settings.
Source: National Weather Service, Federal Communications Commission