How weather radios work
Experts say weather radios that include support of the Specific Area Messaging
Encoding (SAME) system are the best choices. These include all radios that
comply with the Public Alert Standard developed jointly by the National Weather
Service and the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA). SAME-compliant radios
are designed to listen for a specially coded signal that tells them an emergency
message is appropriate for a user-selected county, city or marine area. When
the code is received, the radio turns on, issues an alarm tone and delivers
the broadcast message.
Since NWR broadcasts often cover large geographic areas, a big advantage
of SAME is it minimizes the number of false alarms for events that are too
far away to be worrisome. Even so, there will still be cases when certain
alerts are of far less concern than others -- such as a flood watch alarm
when you live on high ground or a freeze watch notification when you're an
urban dweller. Some weather and emergency radios, like the top-rated Midland
WR-300, allow users to program their radios to disregard specific emergency
alerts. The National Weather Service web page about NOAA Weather Radios suggests
looking for models that feature a selectable alerting of events, also known
as event blocking or a defeat siren.
Reviewers, government organizations and other experts advise following these
tips when shopping for a weather radio:
- The best weather radios are Public
Alert certified. Those that are meet performance and feature standards
established by the NOAA and the CEA. Although the NOAA doesn't officially
recommend any specific radio brand, it does suggest that consumers select
a radio carrying the Public Alert logo.
- SAME technology reduces irrelevant
alerts. Weather broadcasts often cover a wide geographical area, and
SAME lets you program your radio to sound an alert only for warnings intended
for your specific county, city or marine area. It listens for area
codes called Federal Information Processing Standards and triggers the
radio only when an alert for your selected area or areas is issued. To
further reduce false alarms, the NOAA recommends radios that allow you
to specify the types of events to which the radio will respond. However,
some SAME-equipped radios don't let users selectively block events, and
certain types of events like tornado warnings can't be blocked at all.
- An audible alarm is important. Disasters and dangerous weather events don't keep banker's hours. The
best radios can emit a loud tone, even if the audio is off, when an alert
is received. Most reviewers express frustration with models that don't
allow volume control, especially those without selective alert blocking.
It can be annoying to be awakened at night for an emergency that isn't
for a weather alert radio with defeatable alarms. Even with SAME technology,
a radio can receive alarms that are of less concern to specific users.
For example, if you live on high ground, a flood watch or warning might
be less important to you.
- Emergency crank radios aren't the best weather alert
radios, but they can be lifesavers. Crank-powered radios can provide
a lifeline when the electricity is out and batteries have run dry. Many
also provide coverage of the weather bands. Although the majority lack
SAME technology and aren't Public Alert certified, many will sound a warning
when the weather broadcast station to which they're tuned issues an alert.
Some can also charge a cell phone, a huge benefit for campers or outdoor
enthusiasts who may otherwise have no way to contact help.
- Look for radios with multiple power
sources. In any emergency, counting on electrical power is a bad idea.
At the very least, any weather alert or emergency radio should also work
with batteries. Hand cranks are vital on emergency radios when the electricity
is out and batteries are dead. Some units have additional power sources
such as car adapters, internal rechargeable batteries, solar panels and
power is recommended, but battery backup is vital. Power outages often
occur during storms and other emergency events, so the ability to run
on batteries is key.
- An external antenna jack is a good idea. Most weather and
emergency radios have a built-in antenna, but a jack gives you the
ability to add an external antenna in areas where receiving National Weather
Service broadcasts can be a challenge. Since the weather frequencies sit
between the frequencies for TV channels 6 and 7, an antenna designed for
analog VHF TV or FM radio should work well.