A little over a week ago we brought you news that the iOS 6 beta included the option to turn certain kinds of government issued alerts on and off. There were two basic kinds of alerts that you could receive: AMBER Alerts, and more generalized emergency alerts (which presumably include things like severe weather). Of course, not all phones - not even all smartphones - have this kind of option. In fact, most don't. While there are weather apps for most smartphones that will perform a similar function, they don't always work as advertised.
With that in mind, the National Weather Service has struck a deal with all four major carriers to begin bringing severe weather alerts to smartphones using SMS messages. According to Yahoo!News, the alerts will be less than 90 characters long, and will be completely free. All customers on each of the carriers will be signed up automatically, though you have the option to opt out if you want (why would you want to?).
Each of the four largest carriers in the country - AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon - are participating in the program. Three of the four currently offer the service everywhere, while AT&T only has it in Washington, D.C., Portland, Oregon, and New York City. Most smartphones on the carriers' networks will be able to receive the alerts, though iPhone users will have to wait until the fall - presumably for the release of iOS 6, or possibly the new iPhone.
Considering how many fewer people listen to live radio or watch live, local TV these days, it's getting harder and harder for the NWS and other agencies to disseminate emergency information quickly. Programs like this will allow people to get emergency information over channels that were previously unavailable.