What the best weather radio has

  • Public Alert certification. These radios meet performance and feature standards established by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA). Although NOAA doesn't officially recommend any specific radio brand, it does suggest that consumers select a radio carrying the Public Alert logo.
  • SAME technology. Weather broadcasts often cover a wide geographical area, and Specific Alert Message Encoding (SAME) lets you program your radio to sound an alert only for warnings intended for your specific county, city or marine area.
  • An audible alarm. 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 relevant.
  • Multiple power sources. In any emergency, counting on electrical power is a bad idea. At the very least, any weather 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 more.
  • For emergency radios, a cell phone charger and a flashlight. Some crank radios offer features that can be actual lifesavers in an emergency. One is a cell phone charger that will let you put enough of a charge in your cell phone for a brief call or a text message. Flashlights on crank radios won't light up the neighborhood but can help show you the way when batteries are nowhere to be found.

Know before you go

Do you live in an area that's prone to severe weather? A weather radio is useful wherever you live, but if you live in a region that's prone to hurricanes, tornados or other extreme storms, a weather radio becomes almost essential.

What's the difference between a weather radio and an emergency radio? Both are important, but both serve different functions. A weather radio warns you -- hopefully well in advance -- of an impending situation. An emergency radio is designed to see you through a situation, especially situations where the power is out. If you live in an area that often sees extreme storms, having both on hand could be advisable.

Is SAME support really that important? For a weather radio, the answer is yes. With SAME, you can tailor the alerts you hear to ones that only pertain to your location. The best weather radios also let you filter out alerts that are of no interest -- such as a frost warning for someone who lives in the city. Cutting down on irrelevant alerts helps make sure that you pay attention to alerts that could directly affect you.

Emergency crank radios aren't the best weather radios, but they can be lifesavers. Crank 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.

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.

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