Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Every Home Should Have a Weather Radio

Trained meteorologists can forecast the development of severe weather. The latest weather radar technology can detect the signatures and features that signal the formation of severe storms and tornadoes. Warnings are issued as soon as the threat is evident. 

How do you and your family receive the warnings that are issued? If there is a tornado warning your community may use sirens to alert those who are outdoors (sirens are NOT meant to warn people indoors). You may hear it if you are near a radio or television. If you are inside with the windows closed and music playing, for example, how will you know?  If it is in the middle of the night and you are sound asleep, how will you know about the warning?

The answer is a weather alert radio. Just like every home should have smoke detector, every home and business should have a weather alert radio.

In the aftermath of storms we often see people interviewed who say "It struck without warning". What that statement usually means is "I wasn't aware of a warning", because in most cases a warning was not only issued, but issued with enough time to take shelter.  Everything from the forecast to the warning can be perfect, but if people aren't receiving the information then that information can't help them.

There are over 1,000 weather radio transmitters in all 50 states. Most of the time the programming is routine forecasts and information. When the weather turns severe, however, the weather radio is your direct line to the latest storm information.  About ten years ago the NWS Weather Radio network became part of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) managed by the Federal Communications System. With this capability the public can be alerted to information about natural disasters (such as earthquakes), civil emergencies, toxic and chemical spills, and child abduction Amber alerts in addition to the weather watches, warnings, and advisories.

Weather radios come in portable models that you can take with you to outdoor events or other activities like hiking or camping. Some have crank and/or solar recharging capabilities. Desk models run on AC power with battery backup.  The prices of radios range from $25 to $135, with most desk models in the $40 to $75 range. One feature you should seriously consider is a radio with SAME (Specific Area Message Encoding) capability.  This allows users to receive messages only for their designated county or counties of interest rather than the entire broadcast area. This is especially nice at night, as your radio alert will not be activated for areas you have not selected. On the basic radios without SAME any alert issued for any area covered by a specific transmitter will be triggered on the radio.

There are only seven VHF frequencies used for NOAA Weather Radio transmissions.
NOAA Weather Radio frequencies in the U.S.

The NWS has a map page that allows you to access information about all U.S. stations and coverage areas.

NOAA Weather Radio coverage map for Oklahoma
The map interface will also let you view includes a county by county listing of weather radio stations in each state and their current status.

NOAA Weather Radio station status for Illinois counties

NOAA also has a web page with consumer information, including a list of resellers of weather radios. 

Weather radio receivers will also work in Canada. Environment Canada, the government agency responsible for producing official forecasts, operates a network of "Weatheradio" transmitters which generally operate on the same frequencies as the U.S. NOAA Weather Radio network. More information on weather radio in Canada can be found here.

It's worth repeating - every home should have a weather alert radio.

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