Best Weather Radios for Severe Storm Alerts

We simply can’t over stress the importance of disaster preparation. This includes having a stockpile of non-perishable foods, water, first aid supplies, backup battery power, and a reliable means of receiving accurate, critical information. A good way to start an emergency preparedness kit is to have a NOAA Weather Radio (NOAA; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).

NOAA Weather Radios display and transmit hazardous weather warnings, such as severe thunderstorm warnings, tornado warnings, flash flood warnings, public safety information such as amber alerts, and even civil defense alerts. The frequencies of the NOAA Weather Radio depends on your location and channel that you are tuned in to, and the frequencies range from 162.400 MHz to 162.550 MHz (MHz; megahertz, or 106 Hz).

There is certainly no short supply of NOAA Weather Radios, ranging from hand-held devices, hand-cranked devices, to standard battery powered weather radios that are similar to a small stereo system. While most hazardous weather warnings are received via mobile devices these days, having a NOAA Weather Radio on hand is still smart idea. You may be asking why, since you can receive the alerts automatically on your cellular device anyway.

Imagine you are in an area that is being impacted by a hurricane or tornado, and cellular service is disrupted, jammed, or completely blacked out. How will you get your hazardous warning information if there is no cellular service? NOAA Weather Radios receive their signal directly from the local National Weather Service field office. As a result, signals will still be transmitted during the event even though cellular service could potentially be knocked out. Additionally, they can be programmed for those who are hearing and visually impaired through the use of strobe lights, pagers, text-printers, etc. Not only do they disseminate hazardous weather warnings, but NOAA Weather Radios also transmit technological and/or man-made disasters such as hazardous waste and chemical spills, and even oil spills (such as the BP Oil Spill of 2010).

Another way that warnings can be prevented from reaching your cell phone is during a solar storm. Of which, satellite and telecommunication signals can be interrupted on the order of a few seconds to perhaps days during significant solar storms. Some short wave radios, CB radios, and AM/FM radios can also receive NOAA Weather Radio transmissions as well via the Emergency Alert System as it is required by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

To program a NOAA Weather Radio, first you need to know and understand which counties to program into your radio device. Usually, it is the county you are living in and the counties surrounding your home county. When you first turn on your weather radio and begin to program it, you will need the SAME code (Specific Area Message Encoding) for and near your area.

Weather Radio codes
A portion of the list of counties in the state of Texas that include the SAME codes, their NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) transmitter, frequencies, remarks, and call signs. Image credit: NOAA

Thereafter, you can enter multiple SAME codes for the counties that you are within range. Note: If you program your weather radio to a station that is not a SAME channel, you will not receive hazardous weather alerts. Otherwise, your NOAA Weather Radio will alert you when hazardous weather moves into the counties that you programmed.

When an alert is issued on your frequency channel, there will be an initial burst of static depending on which type of weather radio you have. The static burst is similar to the Emergency Alert System tests that is heard on the radio while in your vehicle. After the static burst, the type of message will be relayed, which county or counties may be affected, and the expiration time of the alert. At the end of the alert, a static burst will occur again before it returns to whatever you had programmed (whether it switches off or returns to AM/FM radio).

NOAA weather radios
Various types of NOAA Weather Radio devices. Image credit: NOAA

Hand-cranked chargers are also useful to have during significant weather situations, as it can keep devices such as your phone, laptop, and your NOAA Weather Radio charged. A good hand-cranked charger that I would recommend is the BoostTurbine2000 manufactured by Eton. This charging device contains a rechargeable USB battery pack that is used by cranking it with your hand. You simply use whichever USB cord you have, whether it be by a particular company or a universal cord, plug it into the device, and get cranking. Through use of a lithium battery within the device, about 1 minute of cranking is equivalent to a 30 second phone call. The hand-cranked charging device can be fully charged through the use of a direct current (DC) input. It also includes a micro-USB cable.

Eton hand charger
BoostTurbine2000 hand-cranked charging device by Eton.

The Etón FRX3 Weather Alert Radio has a builtin hand-crank charger, which serves as a charging unit for other devices as well.  The FRX3 is a preparedness radio with AM/FM, all seven NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) weather band stations and the Alert system. 

FRX3 rechargeable weather alert radio.
FRX3 rechargeable weather alert radio.

The FRX3 also serves as a renewable power source for your other critical devices because of its USB smart phone charger.  Simply plug in your phone into the USB port and power will automatically dump charge to your phone, just like plugging into the wall. 

We strongly suggest adding a renewable power source to your disaster preparedness kit.  Power outages can last for many hours or even days; make sure you can keep battery power on your modern-day necessities, including your smartphone.

NOAA Weather Radios can vary in price, but their usability and utility are what matter most. The Midland WR120 weather radio can be found for under $50, and has a very high satisfaction rating. It is manufactured by the Midland Radio Corporation in Kansas City, Missouri. Another good quality weather radio can be found between the $50-100 range is the Kaito KA500. It is portable, solar powered, has a hand crank to charge devices, a small builtin lamp, and AM/FM frequencies and is capable of relaying emergency alerts.

For those who are looking for some more functionality utility-wise, the Midland ER300 NOAA Weather Radio can be found for over $100. It is hand cranked with a solar panel, equipped with a 130 lumen LED light. In addition to the standard AM/FM frequency channel capabilities, it has a builtin dog whistle which can be useful during a disaster situation. It also is capable of relaying morse code messages via a blinking light that flashes according to the code being transmitted.

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