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Weather Alerts On-the-Go, Coming in 2012

Starting next year, weather forecasters will have a new tool for warning people about dangerous weather — location-specific smartphone alerts.

Today, federal emergency alerts are issued over the radio or posted on electronic billboards, and smartphone users can get weather-alert apps that give broad information on severe weather. Next year, however, customers will be able to receive customized alerts through their wireless carrier, from the National Weather Service (NWS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"We're getting this weather, disaster and other emergency information into your hand," said David Green of the NWS during a talk Thursday (Dec. 8) at the American Geophysical Union's fall meeting in San Francisco. "It will provide that information where the hazard is, and as you move around, that info will become available to you."

The alerts will be more than generic text messages. The new service will use geo-location to target alerts to a person's whereabouts. The goal is to give people greater insight into what's going on with the weather so they can make the best decisions about how to respond, Green said.

"We've never been able to provide this type of information, this directly, to people where they are as they are moving around," Green said.

Today, the NWS puts out broad, countywide alerts about severe weather, such as through social media or on radio and television. But in the future, people driving will know how much snow to expect on their roads, Green said. One person's nice snowy day is another person's dangerous drive, he said.

"When we tell people there is a few inches of snow, for some people it's a lovely, beautiful afternoon," Green said. "But those few inches of snow on the roadway, in the right place, can be a disaster for a truck."

The alerts will be voluntary and each cellular provider will begin rolling out the service separately.

You can follow OurAmazingPlanet staff writer Brett Israel on Twitter: @btisrael. Follow OurAmazingPlanet for the latest in Earth science and exploration news on Twitter @OAPlanet and on Facebook.

Brett Israel was a staff writer for Live Science with a focus on environmental issues. He holds a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology from The University of Georgia, a master’s degree in journalism from New York University, and has studied doctorate-level biochemistry at Emory University.