Recent natural disasters, like the wildfires in Colorado and Tropical Storm Debby, have destroyed millions of homes and left citizens in turmoil. But starting Thursday, smartphones will be receiving alerts from the National Weather Service about potentially dangerous weather and emergencies so we can all react and plan faster.

Warnings of approaching tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards and other threats will be blanketed to their targeted areas in messages of 90 characters or less. Later model smartphones will also sound a unique alarm and vibrate when contacted.

It’s part of a broader alert network that was set up earlier this year by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It is estimated that about 90 percent of the messages on the network will be about the weather, although other public safety warnings from the president and local officials will also use the system.

Since the network’s designers didn’t want to overload smartphone users with information, only weather warnings — and not the less serious weather watch — will trigger the alarm.

Although AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile USA are all on board with the system, officials are unclear exactly what percentage of smartphones will be able to receive the alerts. iPhones, for example, won’t be able to get the alerts until at least the fall.

Smartphone users will have the option to opt out of the alerts.

[Chicago Tribune]