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Weather Radio Frequencies Alert You to Emergencies

Weather radios, tuned to the right frequency, will help prepare you for emergencies such as floods or severe thunderstorms.

Although they are typically used to monitor for adverse weather, especially those with hazardous conditions, they also can advise you of calm weather, which is advantageous for hiking, camping and other outdoor activities. Hand-cranked and solar-powered weather radios keep receiving alerts even in a power outage.

About Weather Radios and their Frequencies

The National Weather Service offers broadcasts throughout the US on the following frequencies:

162.400 MHz; 162.425 MHz; 162.450 MHz;  162.475 MHz;
162.500 MHz;  162.525 MHz;  162.550 MHz.

The broadcasts on these frequencies issue information from the National Weather Service about prevailing weather conditions, with a strong emphasis on the more hazardous conditions. The broadcasts will describe weather fronts, storms and extreme temperature or precipitation events.  They typically repeat a recording of relevant weather situations and forecasts.

The National Weather Services has an extensive array of transmitters, each powered at 1,000 watts. It has published an interactive map of National Weather Radio coverage, state by state.

The National Weather Service (NWS) describes it’s operations this way:

“All National Weather Service offices operate VHF radio broadcasts on a taped cycle to NOAA Weather Radio provide the population with the latest weather observations, forecasts, and warning information 24 hours a day. The broadcast can also be heard on some scanners. The signal generally can be heard in a 40-mile radius from the transmitter site, although this can vary greatly depending upon your terrain and surroundings. The routine cycle can be interrupted to broadcast life-threatening warning information, such as a severe thunderstorm, tornado, flash flood, or blizzard warning.”

“Those living in cities surrounded by large buildings and those in mountain valleys with standard receivers may experience little or no reception at considerably less than 40 miles,” NOAA added.

There are radios that receive only these broadcasts. Some of these radios have a NOAA scan capability, automatically monitoring all seven of the weather (WX) band frequencies and locking onto the strongest. But others receive a range of other stations, and some have additional options. We will look at the ones that include radio weather capabilities.

Radios with Weather Frequency Capabilities

The National Weather Service is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which lends its acronym to the NOAA weather radios on the market. These NOAA weather radios are designed to tune into the weather radio frequencies in your area that provide the updates you need.

You should think of your need for a radio when making a purchase. If you are going to stick close to home, a light-weight, low-cost model may do the trick. If you are traveling, you will want to keep it small and light, but you should consider the durability of the gear. But if you wish to make serious preparations for emergencies, you should consider a deeper investment.

Basic radios start at about $17, and range up in price depending on the sound quality and features you wish to add. For instance, small solar panels and hand-cranked generators are becoming standard features, but the size and output of the panel and the ease of use of the crank typically improve with price.

Another standard feature for the lower-priced radios is their power-generating capacity. The solar panels and hand-cranks can charge a 1000 milliamp-hour storage bank. From this you can trickle charge your phone or similar digital device. Some radios have built-in flashlights that are powered by the batteries. But more on this later.

Often the lower-priced radios are also smaller in size, which helps them fit into a backpack when camping or hiking. But handle them carefully, for they are often made of plastic and also will short out if they get wet out on the trail.

On the other end of the price and quality spectrum, hand-held transceiver radios not only receive the NOAA frequencies along with others, but also allows you to transmit messages on certain bands. For the $500 plus price tag, you should expect serious water proofing. Some models are submersible.

Benefits of Tuning into the Weather

When you think of weather radios you typically think of bad weather coming your way. While monitoring hazards is certainly a major concern, there is a bright side too. As hikers, campers and boaters you are constantly looking out for good weather for your activities.  The weather radios usually only give forecasts for a few hours in the future, so they are not substitutes for studying longer-range forecasts.  But they are much better for last-minute updates so that one can pack an extra pair of waterproof socks or a poncho because of a last minute change in the rain probability. Or with a reminder that the skies will to be clear all day one better not forget the sunscreen.

Wind-up Weather Radios

Weather experts advise having several ways of getting NOAA and other meteorological updates. Television stations and internet based apps are alternatives. Abundance Outfitter’s Twitter account @AbundantGuide has a list of Twitter feeds of people and groups who monitor and tweet weather reports and bulletins.

But if a storm causes power outages you may not have the electricity to run the television. It may also interrupt Internet service.

So it is also good to have a few ways to charge your weather radio.

Wind-up weather radios capable of receiving NOAA frequencies solve this problem. The hand crank charges the batteries of your radio. These self-powered radios are a logical addition to the supplies of anyone wishing to prepare for emergencies.

Many radios with wind-up capability also can be charged from multiple sources, giving the user extra sources of power. Some have banks for AA batteries, and others can be recharged from a wall outlet.

Weather Radios in the Suite of Weather Alert Tools

Also a weather radio gives you the NOAA broadcasts directly. If you monitor Internet or television broadcasts you may get some additional information, but you will not be getting the information straight from NOAA and will rely on the interpretations of whomever is passing the information along. Some of these interpretations are very, very good; others are not. Tweets and television often refer you to NOAA broadcasts anyway. Tune into the right weather frequencies and hear the news for yourself.

Although the National Weather Service reports 99 percent up time for its radio weather station system, there is unfortunately the one percent down time and storms contribute to this one percent. In that event, many preppers and homeowners use a radio that receives both NOAA broadcasts and shortwave frequencies. Amateur broadcasters, known as ham radio operators, have invested in quality transmission equipment are licensed to use them. In emergencies they become very active in broadcasting information among themselves about the situations in their localities.

News about Severe Storms, Hurricanes, Floods

Weather radios have been credited with saving lives in severe situations. A Woodward, Oklahoma, man said that a weather radio woke him up and warned him of a tornado in time for him to get his family to its storm shelter. Sirens failed during a tornado there, leaving residents to rely on their WX band radios.

The text of a National Weather Service alert, written by Robert Ricks used in broadcasts, for the 2005 Hurricane Katrina was credited with saving many lives. It was such a signature message going out throuth the NWS system that a copy of the Katrina alert has been archived in the Smithsonian. Amateur radio operators also assisted in relaying weather information during Katrina.



Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) transmissions

Some radios are equipped to receive special digital and analog coding from NOAA transmitters under the Specifc Area Message Encoding (SAME) protocol. The SAME system enables a user to program the radio to receive alerts for specific life- or property-threatening events for a given area.

NOAA lists the following event codes and gives explanations for the meanings of warnings, watches, emergencies and statements.

EAS Event (National Weather Radio-SAME) Codes
Weather-Related Events1
Blizzard Warning
Coastal Flood Watch
Coastal Flood Warning
Dust Storm Warning
Extreme Wind Warning
Flash Flood Watch
Flash Flood Warning
Flash Flood Statement
Flood Watch
Flood Warning
Flood Statement
High Wind Watch
High Wind Warning
Hurricane Watch
Hurricane Warning
Hurricane Statement
Severe Thunderstorm Watch
Severe Thunderstorm Warning
Severe Weather Statement
Snow Squall Warning
Special Marine Warning
Special Weather Statement
Storm Surge Watch
Storm Surge Warning
Tornado Watch
Tornado Warning
Tropical Storm Watch
Tropical Storm Warning
Tsunami Watch
Tsunami Warning
Winter Storm Watch
Winter Storm Warning
Non-Weather-Related Events1
Avalanche Watch
Avalanche Warning
Child Abduction Emergency
Civil Danger Warning
Civil Emergency Message
Earthquake Warning
Evacuation Immediate
Fire Warning
Hazardous Materials Warning
Law Enforcement Warning
Local Area Emergency
911 Telephone Outage Emergency
Nuclear Power Plant Warning
Radiological Hazard Warning
Shelter in Place Warning
Volcano Warning
Administrative Events1
Administrative Message
Practice/Demo Warning
Required Monthly Test
Required Weekly Test

Emergency Alert System Event Codes

Usually the third letter of hazardous event codes consists of one of four letters:

  • W for WARNINGS
  • A for WATCHES

Note: The existing event codes for Tornado Warning (TOR), Severe Thunderstorm Warning (SVR) and Evacuation Immediate (EVI) will not be changed to conform to this naming convention.

  • A WARNING is an event that alone poses a significant threat to public safety and/or property, probability of occurrence and location is high, and the onset time is relatively short.

  • A WATCH meets the classification of a warning, but either the onset time, probability of occurrence, or location is uncertain.

  • An EMERGENCY is an event that, by itself, would not kill or injure or do property damage, but indirectly may cause other things to happen that result in a hazard. For example, a major power or telephone loss in a large city alone is not a direct hazard, but disruption to other critical services could create a variety of conditions that could directly threaten public safety.

  • A STATEMENT is a message containing follow up information to a warning, watch, or emergency.


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