"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 has morphed into an all-hazards system. Working in conjunction with the Federal Communications Commission and the Emergency Alert System -- as well as with state and local government agencies -- 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 and weather alert radios remains high. These units -- 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 emergency situations.
However, being informed about emergencies beforehand is just part of the equation. Keeping abreast of the situation during an emergency is equally important. Emergency 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 units have auxiliary features such as emergency lights and even cell phone chargers.
Relatively few professional reviewers report on weather and emergency radios. Even many enthusiast sites haven't updated their coverage in a while, though in most cases their comments are still valid. Instead, we look to user reviews for guidance. The best selection of reports about all kinds of weather and emergency radios can be found at radio-buff forums like eHam.net, and at large retailers such as Amazon.com and RadioShack.com. Other sites such as GearDiary.com and Wave 3 Weather provide helpful single-product reviews.