Three Things to Look for When Choosing a Weather Radio

When hurricanes, tornadoes, or wintry nor’easters threaten, a weather radio can provide life-saving information. Here’s how to choose the best desktop and portable models.

Tornado in an open field
Weather radios can save your bacon when the power runs out and your phone is out of juice.Nikolas Noonan via Unsplash

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is the governing body in the US that is responsible for weather alerts. These messages can be life-savers for those who live in areas that are regularly threatened by tornadoes or hurricanes. Even for those who live in states where ice storms and blizzard conditions are common, getting a NOAA alert about impending weather threats gives you a heads-up that bad weather is on the way, so you can prepare or even evacuate if necessary.

While sportsmen who want to simply check the weather to fish or hunt an incoming front may not need NOAA alerts, having a radio that can provide the latest updates on weather conditions, tides and barometric pressure can be super helpful. When you begin to shop for a weather radio, however, you’ll quickly discover that there are many types with lots of different features. Some run on AC power with back-up batteries, while others have hand cranks that allow you to power them up anywhere without a power source. Here’s how weather radios break down so you can purchase the model that’s just right for you.

Weather Alert or Weather Band?

Midland weather alert radio
This desktop unit has 25-county SAME capability and unique flashing lights that signal warnings, watches, and advisories. It can also run on AA batteries in case the power goes out.Amazon

There are two types of weather radios. Weather Alert models are specifically designed for emergency use. This is the model to buy if you want to be alerted to any kind of warnings from NWR (NOAA Weather Radio Hazards). NWR is the national network of radio stations that broadcast continuous weather information 24/7 that includes warnings (think tornadoes) watches (like hurricanes), forecasts and other hazard information. Look for models that have an audible alarm function. These radios emit a loud tone when alerts come in (even when the unit is turned off), so you'll never miss a warning.

Weather Band Radios need to be tuned to a specific weather station in order for you to get forecasts and alerts. They are not designed to allow alerts to cut into regular programming, but if you're just looking for a good way to catch your local daily forecast, these are a good way to go.

Desktop or Mobile?

Retekess weather radio
This mini compact Am/FM radio has NOAA capability. It measures just 3.5 x 2.2 x 0.7 inches and weighs 0.15 lb. making it an ideal take-along for hikers and backpackers.Amazon

If all you want to do is receive alerts, then a simple desktop weather radio is perfect. Make sure you look for models that provide Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME). SAME capability allows you to set your radio up to receive alerts for the specific county where you live as opposed to receiving regional reports—a great feature if you want to know if you have a major threat coming down right on top of you.

If you want to take a weather radio with you on the trail, there are lots of compact models available. These mini compacts won’t generally have weather alert capabilities, but you can tune them into specific weather bands for news and weather updates. Most run on batteries, so be sure to bring some spares with you.

Multi-Power is a Plus

Running Snail weather radio
A hand crank makes this AM/FM & NOAA weather radio totally self-sufficient. It also has a built-in flashlight and a port for recharging your mobile phone.Amazon

When the power goes out, you want to be sure you have a back-up power source for your weather radio. Many will run on back-up batteries, but that can be a problem if your power is out for days. Hand-cranked models that produce their own power are the way to go in really bad situations. Many of these models also have a built in flashlight and ports for charging electronics like cell phones.