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Sleeping with one eye open: News Mississippi tested weather apps for overnight storm alerts

JACKSON, MISS– Storms that occur the night create a plethora of issues–one of the most vital being whether or not you’ll be woken up by a tornado siren. 

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency recognized this as an obstacle when attempting to distribute information on Tuesday ahead of the storms that slammed the north-central portion of Mississippi.

“..After dark it is important to have a way to get weather alerts and know exactly what you will do,” said MEMA Executive Director Lee Smithson.

NOAA Weather Radio is an essential tool recommended by forecasters to get information during severe weather events.  Access to other media, such as television or a desktop computer, can often be blocked by loss of power.

While a weather radio is the most reliable, as it runs on batteries and is powered by the National Weather Service, more and more people are relying on smartphones for weather alerts.

That’s why News Mississippi tested three different methods of receiving weather alerts on a smartphone to determine which method worked the best.

Two apps were downloaded onto an iPhone 6s to be tested: an app called TornadoSpy, and the NOAA Weather Alerts app.

The TornadoSpy app, though found in a study last year to be one of the most effective, was very buggy, and while it boasted a $1.99 price tag, there were so many in-app purchases necessary that it pushed the price to over $5. Without the purchases, live radar would not work. Even after the purchases were made, the app itself was so buggy and kept sending error messages about wireless connection that the app itself was basically useless. Giving it the benefit of the doubt, the app was utilized throughout the night, and only sent one alert–about five minutes late. Five minutes could mean life or death in the event of a tornado.

The NOAA Weather Alerts app could be programmed to watch either your local area or surrounding areas. For $1.99, it was well worth the money for the siren alone. It woke this reporter up out of a deep sleep a few times to alert of weather in the areas that had been chosen. For media use it was slightly limited, as the whole state couldn’t be watched at one time.

Aside from apps, there was a method that was shown to be tried and true during the night of severe weather. With a Twitter account, you can search for the Twitter handles that correspond with the agency you with to follow (for example, @MSEMA is the MEMA twitter handle), and then through the settings, select to have mobile notifications.

Following three agencies, News Mississippi knew about every tornado warning in the state and a few in surrounding states in a matter of seconds.

Even still, the most effective and reliable source is an AM/FM radio NOAA weather radio combo. They are battery powered, and a cellphone tower being knocked out wouldn’t prevent them from working, as they would in the case of relying solely on a smartphone. Just be sure to have backup batteries!

Follow @News_MS on Twitter for active weather alerts as they happen.

 

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