Overnight blizzard text alert startles some

Alert is part of new warning system

The National Weather Service issued its first-ever blizzard text alert early Wednesday morning, but the alert startled some who were deep in sleep.

The warning is part of a new state system that was put in place this summer to help pass along important information meant to save lives in case of imminent danger.

Everyone with a newer cellphone in the threatened area receives the text — there’s no need to sign up.

But on Wednesday morning, the alert ruffled some feathers for people who were trying to get some sleep. Most of the text alerts came in at about 3:30 a.m., with some a little later.

“The first (text alert) one came around 4 a.m., making my phone vibrate and make crazy noises — it was going nuts,” said Jill Long.

Many people posting to WISC-TV and Channel 3000’s Facebook page said they weren’t happy about getting woken up to a very loud alert about a blizzard that was still about 24 hours away.

Aaron Jai said the loud noise startled him out of his sleep.

“It scared the sugar out of me, absolutely. I’m in a dead sleep, and an alarm goes off that I’ve never heard before, and it was a significant alarm,” Jai said.

Emergency management officials said it’s the first time this alert has been used in Wisconsin.


“It probably caught many people unaware,” said J. McLellan, of Dane County Emergency Management.

In this case, the alert was controlled by the National Weather Service and was triggered when the blizzard warning was issued.

“It’s called CMAS, which is Commercial Mobile Alert System, and it alerts customers who have capable cellphones of any impending severe weather, Amber Alerts, presidential alerts,” said Jenny Justman, of U.S. Cellular.

Emergency management officials said that even though people have the option to delay some of the alerts or opt out, they should give it a chance. They said it might have been an inconvenience, but it was designed to save lives.

“There is the option to opt out — don’t opt out. Right now, these provide such an incredible tool to give you life-saving information,” McLellan said.

“I think it’s a smart thing to do — maybe not at 4 a.m.,” Jai said.

Based on this text alert, the National Weather Service is considering dropping the blizzard warning and ice warning alerts from the emergency messaging system.

People can disable the alerts through the settings on their cellphones and should check with their service provider if they have questions. Not every cellphone is capable of receiving these alerts, although most new cellphones are.