Comparing Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) and StormWatch+ Alerts

The wireless industry, Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) now disseminate Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) to cell phone users across the nation.  The National Weather Service (NWS) utilizes WEA to push select extreme weather bulletins using this platform.  WEA, also known as Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) or Personal Localized Alerting Network (PLAN), is a national emergency alert system to send concise, text-like messages to users’ WEA-capable mobile devices.  Along with severe weather alerts, other messages that will be sent as Imminent Threat Alerts include natural disaster notices, such as in the event of an earthquake.  In addition to Imminent Threat Alerts, AMBER Alerts will be sent via WEA, as well as Presidential Alerts.

WEA Basics

  • Users are automatically enrolled in the program, but can opt out of all alerts except Presidential Alerts
  • Alerts will only be sent to WEA-capable devices (most phones released in the past few years)
  • Carriers representing more than 97% of cell phone users are represented
  • Mobile users are NOT charged to receive these messages
  • Message will appear similar to text messages, though they utilize more robust delivery technology than traditional text messages that is not susceptible to network congestion
  • Alerts will arrive on your device with a distinct tone and vibration which is different from a standard text message
  • Alert messages will be sent to those within a targeted area (individual cell towers can be programmed to send a specific alert), unlike text messages which are not location aware
  • Though the messages are targeted, your location is not “tracked.” An alert to a particular area will be delivered to all capable devices within that area, regardless of where the device originates or it’s “home” area (i.e., someone from Boston traveling in Dallas will receive any severe weather alerts for Dallas while he is in the affected area)
  • Messages will be limited to 90 characters (though an expansion is planned in early 2020)

Weather alerts sent via WEA (may vary by area)

  • Tsunami Warning
  • Tornado Warning
  • Extreme Wind Warning
  • Flash Flood Warning
  • Hurricane Warning
  • Typhoon Warning
  • Blizzard Warning
  • Ice Storm Warning
  • Lake Effect Snow Warning
  • Dust Storm Warning

While this sounds like a direct (and free) competitor to Cirrus Weather Solutions, LLC’s SW+ Alerts service, SW+ Alerts actually has several distinct and important advantages over the WEA system.  These are outlined below.

Benefits of StormWatch+ over WEA

  • Delivery method
    • WEA – SMS-like text message
    • SW+ Alerts – Push notification with link to full-featured content in app
  • Weather alert types
    • WEA – Limited set of high-end warnings, no watches
    • SW+ Alerts – Expanded list of warnings, advisories, and watches
  • User selection of alerts
    • WEA – All on/off (except Presidential alerts)
    • SW+ Alerts – User controls individual alert types, quiet time, and vacation stop
  • Location(s) monitored
    • WEA – current location only
    • SW+ Alerts – 5 user-defined locations anywhere in the U.S., as well as GPS-based location alerts for use while traveling
  • Area warned
    • WEA – entire county + “bleed over” if cell tower near county line
    • SW+ Alerts – Only within NWS warning polygon
  • Reliability
    • WEA – fairly reliable but statistics not available
    • SW+ Alerts – proven based on extensive use in all weather types (well above 99% reliability)
  • Availability
    • WEA – all recent iOS/Android smartphones
    • SW+ Alerts – all iOS/Android smartphones and tablets
  • Additional content
    • WEA – none
    • SW+ Alerts – local radar, forecast, current conditions, graphical depiction of warning + full text of the alert

For more information on SW+ Alerts+ please visit

For more information on Wireless Emergency Alerts, refer to these sources:

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9 years ago

Very helpful information shared and it is very informative comparison between Wireless Emergency alert system and StormWatch.I was looking for something like this.