"Weather radio" is a broad term used to describe devices that are capable of receiving one or more of the seven National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Weather Radio (NWR) service frequencies. The NWR service uses more than 1,000 transmitters to cover all 50 states as well as coastal waters, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the U.S. Pacific territories. This service, however, deals with a lot more than just weather; NWR also issues alerts about natural disasters such as earthquakes and avalanches, environmental events such as oil spills, and public safety issues, including Amber Alerts and 911 service outages.
Given the spate of weather-related disasters in recent years, consumer interest in emergency radios with weather alert capabilities remains high. These weather radios -- especially those that meet the public alert standard endorsed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) -- can give users enough warning to get themselves and their families to safety in advance of threatening weather and other dangerous weather situations.
Desktop weather radios are popular for use in homes, since they can be plugged into an outlet and supplemented with backup batteries in the event of a power outage during an emergency. These radios are typically less portable than their handheld counterparts, though they regularly come with an alarm clock, AM/FM radio and other features that make them useful for additions to your nightstand or desk.
However, being informed about emergencies beforehand is just part of the equation. Keeping abreast of the situation during an emergency is equally important. Many portable weather radios are designed with long battery life, alert capabilities and a range of helpful extras that come in handy when you have to grab-and-go to escape an oncoming tornado, hurricane or other life-threatening situation.
Among portable emergency radios, crank radios fill that role best by including built-in, crank-driven generators that can power radios when electrical power isn't available and batteries have run dry. Most emergency crank radios also cover the weather bands as well as more traditional radio. Some crank radios have auxiliary features such as a flashlight and even a cell phone charger. Crank radios can be life savers during emergencies, but are also useful for more pleasant occasions, such as camping or hiking trips.
While expert reviews of emergency radios can be found, the best guidance often comes from user reviews as they can provide first-hand accounts of how a weather radio performs when it is needed most -- before and during an actual emergency. Some weather and emergency radios have been around for years -- long enough to amass a considerable track record and hundreds of user reports.
When making our selections for the best weather radios overall, we look at performance first. Other factors, such as how easy an emergency radio is to use come into play as well. Features that improve usability or add valuable extra functions (for example, some crank radios can be used to charge a cell phone) are also considered.