Weather radios are intended to alert you to an impending hazard. There are a couple of different types of official weather radios. Weather band radios must be on and tuned to a nearby weather station to play updates. Weather alert radios will automatically turn on or switch to the local NOAA Weather Radio station if an alert starts playing.
Many modern weather radios, especially the higher-end options, have multiple power sources (hand crank, solar panels, power plugs and batteries) as well as other features that might be valuable in an emergency.
You can find weather alert radios with built-in flashlights, USB chargers for devices and traditional radio receivers.
NOAA Weather Radio is the warning systems operated by the National Weather Service. Weather Radio runs uninterrupted broadcasts from hundreds of transmitters around the country detailing regional weather and forecasts 24/7 every day of the year.
If you have a Weather Radio, make sure it’s tuned to the most relevant broadcast frequency. You can find a comprehensive list of operating NOAA Weather Alert frequencies for Florida here. If you’re not sure which frequency is best for your area you can click on the callsigns to find a map of the transmitter’s propagation area.
For example, Miami has two options. The Belle Glade transmitter, WXM58, covers much of the area around Lake Okeechobee, Palm Beach and parts of Coral Springs, while the Hialeah Spanish transmitter, WZ2531, covers the actual Miami metro area, including Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale and Coral Springs.
As a branch of the U.S. government, the NOAA doesn’t manufacture its own weather radios. However, they do allow manufacturers to put the NOAA Weather Radio logo on weather radios that meet the right qualifications. It’s a great idea to have a NOAA Weather Radio in your home or in your hurricane preparedness kit, but when you buy one make sure it has the NOAA Weather Radio logo.
Weather alert radios are designed to turn on when the specific 1,050 Hz attention tone is transmitted over the airwaves. That’s why that tone always precedes emergency voice messages. The tone should play for 10 seconds before each voice message, and every NOAA Weather Radio receiver needs to respond (turn on or switch to the frequency) within five seconds of the tone starting.
The Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) system used by some weather radios allows for far more nuanced messaging. Different colored LED lights can indicate whether a hurricane or tropical storm warning is just an advisory statement (orange), watch (yellow) or an actual warning (red).
When there’s not an emergency NOAA Weather Radio messages are updated once per hour with the latest local National Weather Service measurements. Conditions updated include:
Throughout the day different segments are worked into updates, including things like hazardous weather outlooks, three- to five-day extend forecasts and area climate summaries. In Florida and around the Gulf of Mexico, NOAA Weather Radio also includes tropical weather summaries.
Weather radio programming is a little different during emergencies. The update cycle is shortened, and it exclusively plays short-term forecasts, hazardous weather updates, tropical weather summaries and special weather statements and warnings.
Additionally, the NOAA Weather Radio signal can be coopted by the government for other emergency alerts. It can be used to transmit:
People might actually be more familiar today with these emergency updates thanks to smartphones. Many wireless devices will display emergency alerts about flooding, hazardous weather conditions and Amber alerts automatically.
However, smartphones are not a replacement for weather radios. Weather radios are dedicated to the purpose and aren’t subject to the same type of power demands or battery drain that makes smart devices inherently inferior information sources in prolonged emergency situations.
There are certainly some societal downsides to the amount of information the average person is inundated with on a regular basis, but one of the benefits is it’s almost impossible to live in Florida and not hear about impending tropical storms or hurricanes.
However, having a weather radio as part of your hurricane kit is still hugely important. The battery life is far better than your smartphone and it can provide more detailed information than a little message update on your phone. A weather radio will also likely continue to function even after cellphone service gets knocked out by hurricane or tropical storm conditions.