In this age of multifunctional smart devices, buying a single-purpose radio for the sake of listening to weather broadcasts might seem old-fashioned and a bit quaint. In reality, weather radios are still a practical and useful item to keep in your home, car or boat. Models are available from numerous manufacturers in portable and countertop versions, for daily or emergency use.
How It Works
The nation-wide system of weather radio broadcasting stations is operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, through its National Weather Service. It uses over 1,000 transmitters to provide weather information in real time, 24 hours a day, throughout the United States, Puerto Rico and other American possessions such as the U.S. Virgin Islands. Canada's federal government provides a similar service, so travelers in the that country or residents of border states can use their radios to receive both sets of broadcasts.
Weather Radios vs. Internet and Smartphones
Weather information is already available through several other media, including cable television, Internet weather sites and smartphone weather apps. However, these have limitations. You can't keep an eye on the weather channel very handily while doing other things, or watching your favorite programs. Internet weather sites are only useful when you have Web access, and when you're away from home data costs can add up rapidly. With smartphones, you're using up both your service plan's data allowance and your battery life. In contrast, weather radios pick up the nearest broadcast anywhere in the country, and can last for months on a single battery.
A less obvious benefit of weather radios is their versatility as a source for emergency information of all kinds. Aside from its all-day forecasts, the Weather Service radio network is part of the FCC's emergency alert system. That means listening to your weather radio will keep you posted on natural disasters, 911 outages, toxic spills or chemical leaks, civil emergencies and even child-abduction amber alerts. Beyond these alerts, weather radios provide advance warning of severe weather conditions such as hurricanes or tornadoes, flooding, high winds and winter storms. Some weather radios provide special alert tones, to catch your attention whenever these are broadcast.
Another key benefit of weather radios is their universality. You need to be within coverage to receive Internet or phone-based weather warnings, and near a television to pick up one of the weather networks. With a lightweight, low-cost weather radio and a spare battery -- or a windup radio -- you can hear weather warnings and alerts anywhere in the country for months on end. You won't need expensive and complicated electronics, and you don't need to sign up for a costly service package in order to receive them. Prices start at less than $20 for basic models and seldom exceed $100, even for the most lavishly equipped.
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