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Warning: Severe weather on the Internet

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For years, people have received severe weather warnings on television, and now there’s a way they can also be alerted online. On Wednesday, the U.S. government unveiled a prototype system to deliver weather warnings through the Internet — complete with a beep and a red box.

As soon as the National Weather Service issues a

warning — whether it involves a tornado, hurricane, flood or snow storm — an Internet service provider, or ISP, could send the alert to its customers in a pop-up box accompanied by a special tone. The red-bordered box eventually would be expanded to include a scrolling java application that displays current news and weather headlines.

On Wednesday, the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced that it had the technology to create such a warning system and that it hoped ISPs such as American Online and Microsoft Network would provide the service to subscribers. “We hope this is a start of a comprehensive acceptance of this technology,” said Art Brodsky, a spokesman for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. He said the system is far from wide acceptance but that the government is going to start pitching the idea to ISPs. “We’re not even at the beta stage,” Brodsky said. “We’re at alpha.”

At a news conference Wednesday announcing the technology, Jamison Hawkins of the National Weather Service, praised the system: “This demonstration is a great public service that other Internet service providers could easily offer to their customers. It can help save lives.”

The warning system is the brainchild of an interagency working group assembled in July to come up with new ways to use technology to help deliver warnings.

The Front Range Internet, a Colorado-based Internet service provider, developed the technology and now is conducting an experiment in five cities — four in Colorado and Washington, D.C.

Bobbi Nodell is a general assignment writer for