hen preparing for the daunting prospect of an impending natural disaster, a lot of people will overlook one critical fact. Pretty much every form of communication we take for granted, cell phones, landlines, televisions, computers, etc., will, in all probability, be rendered useless, as soon as the situation hits or shortly thereafter.
Of course not everyone will overlook the fact that they will need to have some form of communication when the usual communication channels go down. In fact, some people will think ahead and invest in two way radios to ensure they have a easy to use communication system in place.
Two way radios are ready to use and ideal for keeping in contact with and co-coordinating friends and family, albeit at a local level.
Although having two-way radios in the emergency kit is a great idea, their range is extremely limited. This is especially true in urban locations, range is relatively small (2 miles if you’re lucky). So, with two way radios, there will always be a shortfall on information when it comes to what is happening locally and definitely when seeking regional info.
When you consider how much we as a species rely upon communication it is quite bewildering how little importance many of us give to the gathering of external information in a crisis situation.
Knowing what is happening outside your immediate area can significantly impact your decision making. For this reason, the failure to make even a small investment on a good, reliable emergency weather radio is somewhat reckless to say the least.
‘Knowledge is power’, so they say. Anyone who understands that will make the necessary plans to ensure they have an emergency weather radio kitted out with all the ‘bells and whistles’ you could possibly need.
The goal is to have the weather radio ready to kick into action when required, and certainly well before any SHTF disaster comes knocking at the door.
In short, there’s no doubt about it, a weather radio will provide essential up-to-date local weather reports and news. This information will be vital in order to make well-informed decisions about a next move, or for accurately assessing options including bug in or bug out decisions.
Even the guys over at FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) agree! They have a weather radio positioned at number three on their list of recommended items to include in a basic emergency supply kit,it’s preceded only by water and food, go figure!
Emergency Weather Radio Versus Standard Radios
Whatever way you look at it, in a crisis situation the radio is by far the easiest way to receive information about what is happening. This is especially true in large areas, so at the end of the day, any working radio is better than no radio at all.
However, as with most things, all radios are not created equal. Although every radio is designed for carrying out the primary purpose of receiving AM and FM broadcasts, an emergency weather radio offers so much more.
What is NOAA?
If you’ve heard about weather radios, you probably know about The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). And some recommended lists may say, “buy a NOAA radio”.
But NOAA doesn’t make weather radios. They do broadcast warnings and other weather-related information for a variety of hazards through their transmitter network, called NOAA Weather Radio (NWR).
All weather radios can get the NWR signal, however some radios have been tested officially by NOAA, and thus carry the NOAA logo.
While weather radios come in all shapes and sizes, there is one important advantage they have that links them all: they can provide you with timely and helpful access to weather stations that offer detailed, current and highly accurate weather forecasting information for the area you are located in.
This is only possible because the NOAA’s weather service is fed constantly with updates from the numerous, established weather radio stations situated around the United States.
The NOAA is a nationwide radio network featuring stations that broadcast real time weather information 24/7.
Although this network is restricted to certain frequencies within the VHF band, there are a huge number of radio stations available (more than 1,000), and you will be able to connect to the closest ones through your weather radio.
Weather radio stations that are officially accepted and already established can provide accurate and valid information about:
- ✅ Local forecasts – current weather updates for areas close to you and updates regarding weather anomalies that regular weather stations will fail to pick up
- ✅ Warnings – These are localized notifications of highly probable and imminent events that are expected to pose a serious threat to both the safety of the public and to property
- ✅ Watches – A watch is basically the same as a warning notification but with one of either the location, the likelihood of the event actually occurring, or when the event is expected to start, is not known for sure
- ✅ Non-Weather Emergency – These are emergency reports that are not weather related but pose a risk to public safety and property, whether that is directly, or indirectly.
Your local NOAA weather radio stations will be restricted to the use of one of seven established frequencies that are in the VHF Public Service bands. These are, 162.4 MHz, 162.425 MHz, 162.45 MHz, 162.475 MHz, 162.5 MHz, 162.525 MHz, and 162.55 MHz.
If you want to hear the local weather in your area, all you have to do is get a radio that supports NOAA VHF bands, and set it to one of the aforementioned frequencies until you find a station.
Some weather radios will also be able to go up a reporting level and will feature the SAME (Specific Area Message Encoding) facility. When activated, the SAME receiver will start to receive every weather update specific to a certain locale, by allowing you to program your weather radio to only provide weather alerts for your specific parish, county, city or marine area.
The Two Types of Weather Radios
Weather Band Radios
If your weather band radio is switched on and you are listening to the local weather station, you’ll get the NOAA weather alerts. This is very helpful if you keep your radio on and tuned to the weather channel.
So, if you know bad weather is coming, you can get your weather band radio and set it to the proper channel and be able to hear any updates that come through as well as any emergency instructions or information available after the event.
The downside to weather band radios is that you simply may not hear the alert when it comes through. If you are sleeping, if your kids change the station to listen to music, or if your wife turns it down, you’ll miss important alerts.
Weather Alert Radios
The second type of weather radio is the weather alert radio. These radios are typically NOAA tested to not only receive alerts from NWR but to take additional steps to make sure you hear the alerts.
The important and life-saving thing about a weather alert radio is that it will override and interrupt other stations or functions on your radio and switch itself to the NOAA channel when an alert is coming through.
As long as your weather alert radio is turned on, you will get an alert and it will change itself to the correct channel for you to hear the alert. This means even if your kids changed the channel or you happen to be asleep, your radio will still alert you to danger if you leave it turned on.
The weather alert radio can interrupt itself and tune to the appropriate channel when needed. Alerts on most units can be either audible or visual, such as flashing lights, which makes them great choices for those with impaired senses and even for young kids or elderly.
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How They Work
If you know what a radio is, and you know how it works, and now that you know there are two types of weather radios, you won’t have much of a problem finding a suitable weather radio for your home or emergency kit.
The vast majority, if not all, survival experts tend to agree that a weather radio is an absolute ‘must have’, even if you are in an area where very few actual disasters tend to happen.
When events do occur, however, the results tend to be catastrophic, and advanced warning of an event from your weather radio can save your life.
Weather radios work similarly to regular radios, except they have certain special features:
- They are highly portable and lightweight. They’re made to be as easy to transport and store as possible.
- They are very resilient. In fact, some of these radios can withstand some pretty severe weather conditions such as extremely low temperatures and are able to withstand being dropped from a considerable height (not that I suggest you try doing so)
- Another advantage is the access they provide to local weather stations. These radios will have access to the VHF frequencies and the weather stations you need.
- Finally, they have power sources that aren’t depleted. For example, they might use a hand crank to power up a motor or generator that gives the device temporary power stored in a large capacitor.
Multiple power methods
As touched on at the end of the last section most modern emergency weather radios offer multiple ways of being powered up, which is vital for when there is a prolonged power outage!
As well as being able to use the standard methods used by regular portable radios for powering and charging internal batteries, most emergency weather radios will also have had ‘off grid’ charging methods built into them.
In other words, these radios have had hand crank and solar charging technology integrated into their build so in theory, if none of the components malfunction, the radio will be able to work indefinitely.
Okay… but, what exactly is hand cranked charging?
Well as the name suggests, hand crank radios are radios that are powered by hand. There are several different types of hand-powered radios you can consider.
Some are powered by shaking while others use some other type of motion to generate power with the help of a motor or electromagnetic generator that uses magnets.
Hand crank radios are like these, but they use a special type of circular motion to rotate either a magnet in a coil or an electric motor that will then give off enough electrical energy to power your radio.
As mentioned previously, many hand crank radios also use batteries to store the generated power, but some also have mechanical devices that keep the rotation movement going after you crank them up.
While hand-powered generators have only been around since the 1960s – having been developed by the military to push the boundaries of harnessing electricity for practical and survival purposes – the concept existed since the early 1800s.
Today, hand crank radios are just about everywhere, and there’s an entire industry dedicated to the improvement of their power efficiency and feature-rich designs.
Modern day hand crank radios can be extremely useful in emergency situations like wars, floods, hurricanes, forest fires and a host of other possible catastrophes. In fact, according to many experts, hand crank radios are the best means of communication when considering all other available options.
…and solar charging?
Most emergency weather radios will also have a solar panel built into them as an additional way to charge the internal batteries, unfortunately, because these radios are designed to be portable, they are generally pretty small.
This means that there is limited space on the radio therefore the solar panels are going to be small too, which of course limits the amount of power they will generate. Even though the power generated by these panels may not be huge, it is power nonetheless and, in an emergency, that power might just be enough!
Other important features
Most weather radios will have quite a few additional features of one kind or another, some more useful than others. One feature that is extremely useful is an LED flashlight and you will find that most, if not all, the best weather radios will now feature a built-in light as standard.
Other features include flashing emergency lights, great for grabbing peoples’ attention when you are in trouble; sirens, again for grabbing attention but also for chasing off wild animals, who will hate it.
A USB port is not just as another option for charging the radio but can also transform the radio into a mobile charging unit, powerful enough to recharge most small electronic devices.
What to Look for When Choosing One
If you’ve decided that you definitely need an emergency weather radio then you need to ensure that whatever radio you eventually decide upon features all of the features mentioned in the previous section, although the SAME alert feature isn’t an absolute necessity for some people.
Everybody will have different usage requirements and that usually means the radio they choose will need to be suited to those requirements or, be able to perform better than others radios in certain situations or settings.
For example, if you were looking for a weather radio to sit on your sideboard at home and warn you about incoming tornadoes then being lightweight, rugged, and portable isn’t as important as it would be if you needed a radio to stow away in your backpack when out hiking in the mountains.
Choose a brightly colored radio. Many modern weather radios come in bright colors as it makes them easier to locate in a hurry, plus make sure it has a comfortable but strong carrying handle.
Always look to choose a radio with digital tuning rather than analogue. Not only are they easier and more precise when tuning they tend to come with an automatic search feature which could save you valuable seconds in an emergency situation.
If you live on or near water you might also want to consider looking for a radio that is waterproof, or at the very least is weatherproof to a reasonably high level.
You should now understand just how important an emergency weather radio is to the safety of you and your family and whichever radio you decide to go with, you should always:
- follow the manufacturer’s instructions when charging it for the first time
- fully check each charging method works as it should
- periodically test the radio and all its functions
Hopefully you’ll never have to use your radio in an emergency, but if you ever do, performing the three tasks above will ensure your radio will not let you down when you are relying on it the most.
updated 10/17/2019 by Megan Stewart
Born and raised in NE Ohio, with early memories that include grandpa teaching her to bait a hook and watching her mom, aunts, and grandmothers garden, sew, and can food, Megan is a true farm girl at heart.
For Megan, the 2003 blackout, the events of 911, and the increasing frequency of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, spurred a desire to be more prepared for whatever may come along. Soon to be living off-grid, this mother of four and grandmother of nine grandsons and one granddaughter, is learning everything she can about preparedness, basic survival, and self-sufficient homesteading. She is passionate about sharing that knowledge so that others can be increasingly prepared to protect their families.