Most modern buildings are required to have a multitude of safety systems to keep occupants safe from various disasters. Homes are required to have smoke detectors to warn you of smoke and a possible fire. New apartment buildings are required to have fire alarm and sprinkler systems to keep people safe. Banks have security alarms to attempt to keep employees and occupants safe if an armed robbery takes place.
We have all warning systems for internal threats, but what about for external threats? A NOAA Weather Radio does just that. When properly set up, this simple, relatively cheap device will sound a siren whenever severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, or flash floods threaten. Owning a NOAA Weather Radio could save your life. It's a fire alarm for the weather.
Due to legal issues I won't get into right now, I'm not allowed to share the results of the survey I conducted a few days ago for a class assignment. However I will say that it's frightening how many people don't own a NOAA Weather Radio.
Here's a great example of the benefits of owning a weather radio. The strong EF-3 tornadoes that hit Michigan last weekend were relatively unexpected. The area was under a severe thunderstorm watch (Severe Thunderstorm Watch #0076, to be exact), but with a "low" threat for tornadoes. If one wasn't paying attention to the weather that day, one didn't know that tornadoes were possible up until the tornado warning was issued. The Emergency Alert System on TV/radio went off, and tornado sirens were sounded around Dexter MI, but if you weren't watching TV, listening to the radio, or if you weren't in an area where you could hear tornado sirens indoors, then the warning meant bupkis to you.
That's where a weather radio comes in.
Thankfully there were no serious injuries in the EF-3 Dexter MI tornado, but it still did quite a bit of damage. Eclectablog's awesome wife Anne Savage (who runs a great photography blog, by the way) took some excellent pictures of the damage around Dexter.
Photos by Anne Savage Photography
Imagine that kind of damage happening to your home with little or no warning. Having a NOAA Weather Radio in your house will increase the odds of your receiving a timely warning and acting before something bad has a chance to happen.
How they work...
There are 7 weather bands in the United States that NOAA Weather Radios tune to to get information from the National Weather Service. On S.A.M.E. Encoded weather radios, the emergency alert tone (the screechy noise you hear on TV or radio when they test the EAS every week) will trip the weather radio to sound a loud tone alerting you about the warning. On most models, when the siren shuts off, the weather radio turns on and reads the warning out loud.
The following is taken from my weather radio diary posted 1 year ago yesterday, and edited a little bit for this diary:
Most modern and effective weather radios have 4 main features:Having an AM/FM radio, or a flashlight, or any other bells and whistles on the weather radio is a personal preference. However, you need the above 4 features if you want to get the most out of your live-saving weather radio. The point of a modern weather radio is to automatically go off and warn you of severe weather like a fire alarm would warn you of an emergency in the building.
- SAME Encoding -- Each county/parish/borough in the US has its own 6-digit code assigned to it by the government. The National Weather Service inserts these codes into the watches/warnings they send out, and these codes are picked up by the radio and the alert is sounded.
- Alert Tones -- This specific model of weather radio has two alert tones, and most weather radios have these abilities. On the weather radio channels, the 'emergency alert system' sound goes off for 10 seconds, then the watch/warning is read by a computerized voice. The weather radio has a "voice" alarm or a "siren" alarm. The voice alarm sounds the siren for 10 seconds, then switches to the weather band and reads the warning. The siren alarm sounds a siren for about 2 minutes, or until you shut it off. It's preferable that you keep it on voice, so you know what's going on.
- Alert Type -- With the more expensive Midland radios, and with the First Alert kind I have, you are able to program what kind of alerts for which you want the radio go off. For instance, if you don't live in a flood-prone area, you don't really need flood warnings. You are able to disable flood warnings (and other non-crucial alerts) on these types of weather radios, to reduce the annoying factor of the radio and to increase the severity of hearing the thing go off. There are certain alerts, though, that you can't disable (including tornado warnings, hurricane warnings, nuclear power plant emergencies, and so on).
- Weather Band -- All weather radios, modern or not, have the ability to pick up all 7 weather radio frequencies in the United States. Certain counties are covered under certain frequencies, and it's crucial to tune your weather radio to the appropriate weather radio frequency to receive your warnings and watches.
Weather Radio Brands
There are lots of manufacturers of weather radios. The main problem people run into when looking for a weather radio is the stigma of bad reviews. For the most part, ignore those. The people who write bad reviews for weather radios likely did not set the radio up correctly.
The most prolific weather radio brand is Midland, who makes the basic WR-100. A quick search on Amazon, eBay, or whatever other shopping sites you use will turn up other brands. It is imperative that you get a weather radio that has "S.A.M.E. Encoding" in it, or else it's nearly useless as an emergency warning device.
I encourage you to get a weather radio for yourself, your family, and even get them for friends and relatives as gifts. At the worst, listening to the siren is an inconvenience. At the best, it could save your life.
6:39 PM PT: If you have an iPhone or iPod Touch, get the iMap Weather Radio App. It uses your GPS location to send you a push notification if you go under a severe thunderstorm watch/warning, tornado watch/warning, or flash flood watch/warning. It's $9.99 but well worth it.