How to Choose the Best Weather Radio

weather radioThere's no doubt Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin are a tornado target zone. The most dangerous thing about tornadoes is that they form and strike with little or no warning. Weather radios can solve that problem; the question is which one to buy and how to use it?

What makes a radio a weather radio?

Most weather radios are standard, everyday AM/FM radios except for two features. First, they can access a dedicated station broadcasting both normal and emergency weather information. Second, if you're listening to regular radio or have the unit turned off, it will change stations or turn itself on when an alert goes out. The weather broadcasts that the unit receives may be from a number of sources, but most of them are broadcast by the NOAA Weather Radio service. Their network has over 1,000 stations and reaches 97% of the United States and its territories.

Where should I purchase one?

Your best bet is an electronics store like Radio Shack or Best Buy, or a discount store (such as Wal-Mart or Target) that has a well-stocked electronics department – the bigger the selection and the more knowledgeable the employees, the better. If you're buying a radio for outdoor activities like camping or canoeing, you may want to visit a camping supply store or outdoor outfitter. They'll have the best selection of units designed for that type of use. Don't buy a used unit. It could be damaged in some way the seller isn't aware of and that you won't be aware of until it's too late. Also, some of these units used analog weather broadcasts from local TV stations for their alerts, which no longer exist because broadcast television has converted to a digital format. Also, used units are usually separated from their box and instructions.

What should I look for?

First, let's deal with the radio itself before considering any features.
  • It's best to buy a radio with the NOAA logo on the box; NOAA has the best network and coverage. They're also an “all alerts” network, which means that your radio will receive information about non-weather events such as terror attacks and AMBER Alerts.
  • Be sure you buy a weather alert radio and NOT a weather band radio. A weather band radio will allow you to receive NOAA broadcasts, but won't change the station or turn on when a weather alert goes out.
  • Get a radio with a battery backup. Storms may cut off your power long before a tornado forms.
  • Choose a model with Specific Alert Message Encoding (SAME) technology. This allows you to set it so you'll only receive alerts for your immediate area.
  • Consider buying more than one. Many manufacturers sell a clock radio model you can use in your bedroom. This plus a portable model will ensure you have one near you no matter where you are in your home or travels. If you're buying a portable, get one that's water resistant.
There are some extra features you may want on your radio:
  • Warning displays—Some models will flash a word identifying the incoming threat and/or flash bright warning LED's. This can be crucial if you're hearing impaired or if you're in an environment with loud noise when disaster strikes. Some models will accept strobe attachments, bed vibrators or other devices designed to alert or wake those who can't hear warning tones.
  • Crank power—If your radio has a crank, you'll always have power.
  • Antenna jacks—Some models include a whip antenna that can be plugged in to increase the reception range.
  • Cell phone charging—Having a charging station separate from your house power can be a real life saver, especially if the radio is crank powered.
  • Onboard flashlight—A flashlight that attaches to the unit (and on some models, recharges from it) will ensure you know exactly where a light source is in an emergency.
As usual, preparation is the key to safety. Choose what works best for you, but get it in place now so you can be ready when Mother Nature throws something nasty your way. Download your free home disaster planning eBook  


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