Severe Weather WEA Alerts May Become More Informative Next Year

SILVER SPRING, MD – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is asking for the public’s feedback on proposed change to the messages sent to cell phones via Wireless Emergency Alerts during times of severe weather.

Starting in May 2019, the Federal Communications Commission will change certain rules and regulations regarding WEA alerts. One of those changes includes an expansion of the number of characters allowed in a WEA message.

Currently, the character limit is 90, or 150 for Spanish languages. The new regulations will allow up to 360 characters for both languages.

Several warning products from the National Weather Service are included in routine WEA alerts, such as Tornado Warnings and Flash Flood Warnings. These alerts are then sent to cell providers who transmit them to users who are within the warning area.

The official NWS warning area is defined as; a storm-based polygon using Latitude/Longitude coordinates, a certain radius of a given point or a county-by-county basis.

The FCC’s character expansion to WEA would allow the NWS to communicate life-threatening weather information in more detail, including hazards and call-to-action statements.

Listed below are a few sample WEA alerts in the current format, a proposed refined 90-character format and a proposed longer 360-character format:

Flash Flood Warning

  • Current Format:  Flash Flood Warning in this area til 6:00AM EST. Avoid flooded areas. -NWS
  • Proposed Refined Short Message:  NWS: Flash Flood Warning in this area til 6:00AM EST. Avoid flooded areas.
  • Proposed 360 Character Message:  National Weather Service: A Flash Flood Warning is in effect for your area. This is a dangerous and life-threatening situation. Do not attempt to travel unless you are fleeing an area subject to flooding or under an evacuation order. This message expires at 6:00AM EST.

Tornado Warning

  • Current Format: Tornado Warning in this area till 12:15PM EST. Take shelter now. Check local media. –NWS
  • Proposed Refined Short Message: NWS: Tornado Warning in your area til 12:15PM EST. Take shelter now. Check local media.
  • Proposed 360 Character Message:  National Weather Service: Tornado Warning in your area until 12:15PM EST. Take shelter now in a basement or an interior room on the lowest floor of a sturdy building. If you are outdoors, in a mobile home, or in a vehicle, move to the closest substantial shelter and protect yourself from flying debris. Check local media.

Hurricane Warning

  • Current Format: Hurricane Warning in this area. Check local media and authorities. -NWS
  • Proposed Refined Short Message: NWS: Hurricane Warning in this area. Check local media and authorities.
  • Proposed 360 Character Message: National Weather Service: A Hurricane Warning is in effect for your area for dangerous and damaging winds. This warning is issued up to 36 hours before hazardous conditions begin. Urgently complete efforts to protect life and property. Ensure you have food, water, cash, fuel, and medications for 3+ days. FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS OF LOCAL OFFICIALS.

The NWS is taking public comments on these proposed changes to WEA Alerts through December, 31, 2018.

You can send your comments and or questions about the proposed changes via email to  tropical.program@noaa.gov.

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