Dust-Storm Cell-Phone Alert Freaks Out Phoenix-Area Residents; National Weather Service Says It's Fielding Complaints

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Stacy LeClair via Facebook
Sunday night's dust storm, as seen from Mesa.


About 9:30 p.m. Sunday, our iPhone -- and perhaps yours, too -- began buzzing like the bridge of the Enterprise just before a Romulan attack.

Dashing to the kitchen counter, where the phone was plugged in and recharging, we discovered that no, North Korea hasn't launched an EMP strike -- it was just the National Weather Service informing us that a dust storm was on the way.

The government cellphone alert surprised many Phoenix-area residents who received it, judging from our Facebook friends. A National Weather Service employee tells us this morning that the agency has been fielding complaints about it.

"I about shit my pants," says one of our co-workers who received the alert.

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The information was accurate, for sure. About 30 minutes after the warning, strong winds could be heard blowing outside. We peeked outside and saw dust. But dust storms, (we're not fans of the word "haboob"), occur several times each summer in the Valley and cause little, if any, damage. Hardly something worth setting hundreds of thousands of cell phones abuzz.

Wireless emergency alerts began last year in the Phoenix area with just a couple of cell-phone companies and operating systems, explains Charlotte Dewey, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Phoenix.

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The system issued 18 dust-storm alerts last year, but because the alerts only go to people in the affected areas and not many cell-phone carriers used them, few phone users noticed. Sunday night was the first time the system was used this year, and it now works on more phones, Dewey says.

"It went out to a lot more people," Dewey says. "I think the iPhone didn't have it last year."

After Sunday night's alert, several people called the NWS to complain.

"We got a lot of people who did not like it," she says. "They want to turn it off. They did not ask for it."

Here's how to stop this annoyance from happening again on the iPhone (you're on your own for Samsung Galaxies and other phones we don't own):

* Go to Settings.
* Click on Notifications.
* Scroll all the way to the bottom and notice two toggles, one for Amber Alerts, and one for Emergency Alerts. Turn them off.

Problem is, as Dewey notes, "it's kind of an all or nothing."

In other words, with "emergency alerts" off, you won't get that notification of the tornado bearing down on your home.

But if your phone goes nuts every time the wind kicks up a few grains of dust, you'll just ignore it, anyway.



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14 comments
mdominy
mdominy

Why did I and all of my family in Sierra Vista get this dumba$$ alert? 

AZDriver
AZDriver

It's not accurate that dust storms cause "little, if any, damage". They are extremely hazardous to drivers and can even be fatal. A quick google search will return a number of massive pileups in Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico along with injuries and deaths. 

shadeaux14
shadeaux14

This is why I prefer my 6 yr old dumbphone.

Flyer9753
Flyer9753 topcommenter

hahahahaha... figures the iPhone would preload this as part of the OS, making your decisions for you...

Android... nope, I have a samsung and had nice peace and quiet last night.

On Android, you need a 3d party app, not part of the OS to get alerts. That 3d party app is customizable so you don't get alerts you don't want and they are not annoying/stupid ones like this was.

Yet another reason that Android kicks ass over iOs/iPhone

shadeaux14
shadeaux14

Can they come up with an "Idiot Alert" notification system to warn us when Jan Brewer is about to say or do something embarrassing?

WhoKnows
WhoKnows topcommenter

Sorry Ray, but the same folks that are complaining about this alert will be pissed as heck if a major storm comes through and they don't know about it.  I didn't get the alert on my phone, but did get it on my NOAA weather radio - that I got just to know when the monsoon was kicking up!

Mikey1969
Mikey1969

@AZDriver Sorry, the major multi-car pileups due to dust storms are relatively rare. It doesn't mean that the warnings aren't a good thing, it just means that you are over-dramatizing the issue. There are plenty of dust storms every year that door next to no damage. The multi-car pileups occur when some moron stops on the freeway, rather than following the proper safety steps of pulling off of the road as soon as possible and turning off all lights.


And YAY to PNT for not giving in to this "haboob" bullshit.

ray.stern
ray.stern moderator

@AZDriver True, dust storms can be hazardous to drivers, but I think most dust-storm-related accidents occur on the open road, not on Valley streets. Most of the time, in the city environment, a dust storm means slightly reduced visibility and that's about it. 

running123
running123

@Flyer9753 My Galaxy S3 had the alert sent to it. I think older Droid phones didn't get it, newer ones, yes. 

WhoKnows
WhoKnows topcommenter

@shadeaux14 That would be going off twice a day, and much more often after happy hour starts.

ray.stern
ray.stern moderator

@WhoKnows The only reason I would want to know if there's a dust storm approaching is so I can take a good picture of the dust wall for Facebook.

Flyer9753
Flyer9753 topcommenter

@running123 @Flyer9753  

I'm running latest Jellybean on a Galaxy Note S2 (SGH-i717)

Either way, I just like poking fun at iPhones, since they suck soooooo badly compared to almost any android and definitely in regards to samsung smartphones :)

Anon
Anon

@Flyer9753  

Well you would be wrong on this one.  Come factory with android.  Go to messaging, menu, settings.  It's preloaded on your phone.  Perhaps its your service.

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