Agency unveils weather warnings for Web-heads


Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Internet addicts may soon have a way to learn that a tornado, flood or other threat is bearing down on them: pop-up weather alerts.

The latest in warning technology was unveiled Wednesday by the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

"Every American lives in an area at risk of severe weather at one time of the year or another," said Gregory Rohde, head of the agency. He called on Internet service providers across the nation to adopt the new system.

"This is the beginning of a beautiful relationship," said John Sokich of the National Weather Service, www.nws.noaa.govc, which currently provides weather warnings nationwide.

Weather Service forecasts and warnings are currently broadcast on the government’s NOAA Weather Radio, and also are relayed by most commercial broadcasters.

However, until now there has been no way to reach the Internet user unless she or he decided to check the Weather Service site or one of the many commercial weather sites that offer forecasts and warnings.

Front Range Internet of Fort Collins, Colo., developed the new system of pop-up warnings and is the first Internet service provider to offer them to consumers.

Front Range’s Bill Ward said the system is easy to install and could be used by most of the nation’s 1,000 or so companies that offer Internet connections.

In the Front Range system, a user logging on can click on a weather icon and activate the automatic warnings. They remain active throughout an Internet session, regardless of what other sites the user visits.

If an alert is issued by the Weather Service, a user who has the alert system turned on hears an alarm. Then a red-bordered box pops up on the screen, warning of a tornado, flood or other threat.

In the future, Ward said, the system could be expanded to include other types of warnings and have a voice read the warning to users.

Ward said Front Range pioneered the system at the request of the Internet Service Provider Business Forum after Rohde in July called on all communication sectors to develop better ways to provide warnings to the public.

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