Text messages & smart phone apps alert Georgians of severe weather

Merritt Melancon is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

For decades families have relied on NOAA weather radios to alert them to hazardous weather conditions near their homes. Updates in technology now give the public options for staying abreast of weather conditions while on the go.

Dozens of smartphone apps and mobile phone alert services now allow you to track storms and receive emergency alerts even if you’re away from your weather radio or TV.

“People should definitely have some kind of notification that can provide them with warning of incoming severe weather when they are outside away from television,” said University of Georgia agricultural climatologist Pam Knox.

Knox notes that while many communities maintain emergency alert sirens, people may not always be where they can hear the sirens when an emergency strikes – especially if they live in a rural area.

Since most people keep their phones with them — while in the car, in the garden or on a hike. These news apps and services can provide life-saving advanced notice when a storm is approaching, Knox said.

The new apps generally fall into two categories: alert services that send texts or emails to subscribers when severe weather is on the horizon and apps that use push alert notifications (whistles, buzzers, sirens) to inform you of bad weather based on your current location.

Alerts by text

Many municipalities and counties are using text alert systems, like Nixle, to alert the public to everything from icy roadways and serious traffic accidents to missing people. For the most tailored information, mobile phone users may want to check with their local police or fire departments for information on local systems.

Mobile phone users may also receive wireless emergency alert text messages through their cell phone provider. These are alerts sent out locally by the National Weather Service and local emergency management personnel. Phone users should check with their carrier to configure their phone to accept these alerts. Visit www.ctia.org/wea for more information on the system.

Paid services are also available to deliver emergency alerts to cell phones via text. Free services are provided by commercial weather services like The Weather Channel, which delivers daily forecasts.

Cell phone users can also sign up for a wide range of text alerts from FEMA. Most deal with disaster preparedness, helping people find shelter or assistance after a disaster strikes. Subscribe now at www.fema.gov/text-messages to be prepared for severe thunderstorm and tornado season.

Weather alert apps

The second option for using your cell phone as an emergency alert device is to download one of the many available weather alert apps. There are several options to chose from at the Apple’s App Store and Android’s Google Play.

Accuweather.com, The Weather Channel, Ping4alerts, Weather Underground and The Red Cross offer free apps that will cause cell phones to buzz, ring or vibrate when the National Weather Service issues a severe weather alert.

The Red Cross alert apps are event specific. They send out audible alerts only when tornado or hurricane warnings have been issued. Due to their serious nature, these alerts are sent more infrequently. Red Cross apps also provide disaster preparedness and recovery information.

Advanced weather and emergency apps are available for a fee. Topping the list at the high end are apps like Radar Scope, which for $9.99 provides real-time, highly-detailed weather radar images, to NOAA Weather Radio, which for $1.99 provides audible National Weather Service alerts and reports the closest lightening strike in your area.

While most weather apps pull their information from the National Weather Service, none were created by the service. NWS does maintain a list of suggested mobile products at www.weather.gov/subscribe and operates mobile.weather.gov, a version of its website that is optimized for smart phones.

NOAA has a series of apps for both iPhone and Android phones, but most address wildlife issues and marine conditions.

Tech savvy individuals can read instructions on how to use your mobile device to prepare for disaster at www.redcross.org/prepare/location/home-family/tech-ready/data. For information from UGA Extension on how to prepare for natural disasters, visit extension.uga.edu/environment/disasters.

Native Plants of North Georgia app now available

Submitted photo

Merritt Melancon, news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

Spring is around the corner, and University of Georgia Extension has a new app to help families and outdoor enthusiasts make the most of those first springtime hikes.

Submitted photoNative Plants of North Georgia, now available for iPad, iPhone and Android devices, is a consumer-oriented field guide of the flowers, trees, ferns and shrubs that populate north Georgia’s lawns and forests.

Stationed in the heart of the Chattahoochee National Forest, UGA Extension Coordinator for Union County and the apps’ content author, Mickey Cummings, has spent his career identifying plants for day-trippers, hikers and homeowners in north Georgia.

“I started wanting to create a collection of photographs that backpackers could use to identify plants on the trail,” Cummings said. “All the reference material I was working with was too large to pack, and we wanted something that would be easy for people to use.”

He first developed a hard copy of his guide, a pocket-sized laminated flipbook, in May 2008 to help the public identify local plants on the fly. UGA Extension has sold more than 1,000 copies of that original book and the free online edition has been viewed more than 6,000 times.

For more information visit his site.

Representatives from Southern Regional Extension Forestry, UGA Extension and the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Office of Information Technology decided to use the popular guide as a pilot project in their development of mobile applications for UGA Extension.

The app, developed by application programmer Benaiah Morgan, allows the public to browse photos of plants organized by their blooming periods and includes leaf and bloom descriptions as well as scientific and common names.

Other UGA Extension faculty members have collaborated on apps in recent years, mostly focusing on horticulture, pest management and turfgrass management. However, Native Plants of North Georgia is the first app to be produced by the UGA Extension publications and Extension digital productions team.

All versions of this app are free and ready for download through the Apple App Store and Google Play. A PDF version of the guide is available for free download and the original pocket-sized flipbooks are still available for purchase ($12.00) by visiting www.caes.uga.edu/publication.

UGA Extension offers hundreds of free-to-download, research-based publications providing information on everything from home vegetable gardening to pest control to native plant identification. For more information about the library of information available visit extension.uga.edu orwww.caes.uga.edu/publication.

Related UGA Extension Publications:

Native Plants for Georgia Part I: Trees, Shrubs and Woody Vines

Native Plants for Georgia Part II: Ferns

Native Plants for Georgia Part III: Wildflowers

Apps help identify invasive pests

Clint Thompson, news editor with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences


Is there an unwanted invasive insect or plant on your farm or in your garden that you don’t recognize? The University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences has an app for that.

Invasive species trackers at the UGA Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health have developed a suite of apps to help farmers, forestry personnel and home gardeners identify strange unwanted invasive pests. They can now identify their problem invasive pests in the field, rather than breaking away to sit down at a computer and look it up.

Apps developed by the center’s technology director Chuck Bargeron and his co-workers provide direct links to different databases specializing in informing and educating the public about invasive species, those not native to an area that has been introduced and causing damage to agriculture and forestry. Such species include the kudzu bug that munches on soybeans and the spotted wing drosophila which affects blueberry crops.

“For the IOS platform, we’ve had more than 25,000 downloads of apps. The most successful one was the first one we did which was for Florida, which was focused primarily on pythons in south Florida. It’s probably been the most successful because it had the most press coverage when it first came out,” Bargeron said.

The app is one of 17 the center has developed. It provides different apps for different parts of the country because, for example, farmers in the Western United States aren’t concerned with the same species that growers in the Southeast are concerned with. Working a regional perspective allows users to focus on species in their geographic area.

Bargeron and members of the Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health have had great success with database web-based resources of information, especially after the pictures image archive were added to the website in 2001. When Keith Douce and David Moorhead, — co-directors of the center formally known as Bugwood Network, — launched the website in 2001 they added pictures from 35mm slides. Approximately 3,500 pictures were available. As more and more people began using the website and recognizing its value, they started sharing their own pictures. The database of pictures increased greatly in the 12 years since the website was started. Now, more than 200,000 pictures from more than 2,000 photographers are in the systems database.

These resources have also changed the way forestry and agriculture classes are taught. An entomology professor at Texas A&M told Douce the resources caused him to completely restructure how he teaches his classes.

According to Douce, the center website generated 9.3 million users last year and 260 million hits.

For more information, visit the website at bugwood.org.