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March 5, 2013

Weather warnings now issue from your pocket

JOPLIN, Mo. — Weather warnings have reached the digital age - a fact proven by Keith Stammer's cell phone. His latest mobile software is the free Tornado App, created by the American Red Cross to issue audio alerts including a high-pitched siren and the spoken, "Tornado warning!" when bad weather approaches.

Stammer, director of emergency management in Joplin, suggests people have back-up systems for their back-up systems when it comes to weather warnings. He encourages people to monitor three sources - the outdoor sirens typically maintained by municipalities, weather radios available for $30 to $60, and cellphone alerts.

"It's always better to have too much information than not enough," said Stammer, whose city was hit by a mile-wide tornado in May 2011 that killed 158 people and injured more than 1,000 others.

The Red Cross launched its new app in time for National Severe Weather Preparedness Week. The app also includes location-based alerts for severe thunderstorms and floods. When a warning expires or is cancelled, the app gives an, "All clear!"

A feature allows users to reassure family and friends they are out of harm's way.

“Tornadoes often happen in the overnight hours when people are sleeping,’’ said Debi Meeds, CEO of the American Red Cross for Southern Missouri. “The audible alerts in this app can save lives — even if users can’t monitor the weather because they are away from radio, TV or in places where weather band radios may not work.’’

The Red Cross has launched other apps for earthquakes, fires, first aid and hurricanes. The latter grew popular after Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast. It was downloaded by more than 400,000 users looking for real-time recovery information.

The National Weather Service has no app, but spokesman Steve Runnels noted its information "feeds the dozens of weather apps that are out there, whether it be a basic forecast or a situation involving a severe weather event and how hazardous it will be."

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