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National Weather Service to send alerts to smartphones

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A new Wireless Emergency Alerts system from the National Weather Service is on the way for American smartphone owners, but don't expect to get alerts about impending tornadoes or blizzards on your iPhone immediately.

Starting today, the Wireless Emergency Alerts system will begin alerting people in areas near potentially dangerous weather situations by making a special sound and vibrating. You won't have to sign up or pay for the service, which is part of a larger alert network launched by the Federal Emergency Management Agency earlier this year.

Carriers and governments will issue alerts by sending them out from every cell tower in an affected area, so the alerts are not on your home location. The alerts will cover ice and dust storms, blizzards, extreme winds, flash floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, typhoons, and tsunamis. Severe thunderstorm alerts won't be included, and only warnings -- not watches -- are to be sent out.

But iPhone owners shouldn't get too excited about the system, which is currently offered nationwide on Sprint, Verizon, and T-Mobile networks and a handful of cities on the AT&T network. Weather Service spokeswoman Susan Buchanan said that iPhones are supposed to join the system this fall, but it's not known if that will only be new iPhones or if all iPhones will be capable via a software update.

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