According to the National Weather Service, 550 tornado related deaths occurred in the US in 2011, making it one of the most devastating years–in terms of lives lost to tornadoes–in the last century. With dozens of deaths already reported in 2012, the tornado season is again upon us, and your phone may be your best defense.
Emergency text alerts have been in place for some time, but now there are many free apps available that also call a phone with weather warnings. Of several I considered, Simple Weather Alert, which provides National Weather Service alerts in near real time, consistently received the most favorable ratings. Fortunately, no extreme weather has yet necessitated its use, but I did receive a flood warning call (8 minutes after NWS issued the warning). However, like fire insurance, the extreme elements of this service are ones that I’d rather not learn about first-hand.
The first thing to do is add a location. From the menu, select Locations…
…enter a location name, choose Zip/City (shown below) or County, and tap Find By Lookup.
Then, tap the Finished button.
Only one location at a time can be added to the free version, but that location can be changed at any time. Open Locations and long press (press and hold) the location name to delete or edit.
Although it’s apparently available in the free version, I was unable to get the GPS tracking feature, Find My Phone, to find mine.
Settings are adjusted in the Preferences menu.
Since tornadoes are my main concern, the Emergency Notification section received special attention. Enable Emergency Notification and Override Silent Phone are checked by default.
In Notification Actions, I checked everything. If a tornado is on its way at 2:00 am, I want my phone to get my attention. If Weather Alert offered to whack me with a 2 x 4, I’d check that too (Note to self: Suggest that to the developers).
Tap NWS Severity in the Emergency Notification section to set notification levels. To test the app, I initially set mine low and received calls about flood watches and warnings, but the Extreme setting will react only to NWS extreme weather event warnings (tornadoes, etc.).
Color-codes for alerts are based on NWS severity determinations for weather events; Red is Extreme, Yellow is Severe, and Blue is Moderate. Tap the warning for details.
Polling Times determines how often alerts are checked.
Making adjustments to Polling Times alert intervals can help reduce strain on the battery. The minimum interval for When Alerts are Active is 2 minutes.
I increased the When no Alerts interval, but this will probably continue to be tweaked, until a comfortable balance of power usage and alert intervals is reached.
Phone notification of a pending disaster won’t help if the battery’s dead.
As far as I can tell, this app is available for Android only, and some searching unearthed no similar free apps for other devices. If there are any out there, please let us know, and we’ll be glad to pass along that information.
In the event that you are threatened by a tornado, the information below is from the Red Cross Tornado Safety Checklist.
The tag line in the Simple Weather Alert description sums it up pretty well, “When all you care to know about the weather is if it’s about to kill you or not.”