Dust Storm Warning Issued for Eastern Riverside County

The warning was blasted to some residents' cellphones

By Samantha Tata
|  Friday, Aug 23, 2013  |  Updated 10:04 PM PDT
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More residents than intended received emergency alerts to their cellphones Thursday warning them about a dust storm out of Arizona. The National Weather Service says certain wireless carriers have not updated their systems to be more selective. But a weekend storm could mean residents get more of those alerts as rain is predicted for mudslide-prone burn areas. Tony Shin reports from Riverside for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Aug. 23, 2013.

Tony Shin

More residents than intended received emergency alerts to their cellphones Thursday warning them about a dust storm out of Arizona. The National Weather Service says certain wireless carriers have not updated their systems to be more selective. But a weekend storm could mean residents get more of those alerts as rain is predicted for mudslide-prone burn areas. Tony Shin reports from Riverside for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Aug. 23, 2013.

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Cellphone alerts startled Southern Californians for the second time this month on Thursday.

This time, it came in the form of an "Emergency Alert" issued by the National Weather Service and was connected to a dust storm warning.

The warning lasted until 8 p.m. and included much of far southwest Arizona and southeast California, according to NWS. It applies to eastern Riverside County, but residents in the western portion of the county reported getting the warning, as well.

A spokesman said the National Weather Service said more residents than intended received the alerts. They were meant for residents in the Coachella Valley and Anza-Borrego Desert area, but the mobile warnings creeped into metro areas in the Inland Empire.

The first alert came about 5:39 p.m. telling recipients the warning will last until 7 p.m. An updated second alert came at 6:50 p.m. with the news that the warning had been extended an hour.

NBC4 was contacted by several viewers who were concerned or confused about the alerts.

Residents in Moreno Valley, Eastvale and Riverside told NBC4 they received messages on their cellphones alerting them to the dust storm warning, and advising them to avoid travel.

NWS's Rob Balfour blamed the excess alerts on outdated systems, not yet updated to be more selective. He said if customers think they received the message in error, they should call their wireless provider.

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Andrew S. said the alert was accompanied by the same special ring and vibration that was used to alert Californians to a statewide Amber Alert earlier this month.

On Aug. 5, phones across the Golden State buzzed, beeped and whirred as California sent its first statewide Amber Alert to mobile devices.

Those alerts -- dubbed Wireless Emergency Alerts -- were delivered with a special tone and vibration meant to help people with hearing or vision disabilities get the warning.

NBC4 viewers said Thursday evening's dust storm warning came with that same tone.

They're part of the Wireless Emergency Alert program, which was created by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and executed by wireless carriers on a voluntary basis.

NBC4's Tony Shin contributed to this report.

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