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How to Choose a Weather Radio

A look at how smart use of technology can save your life in severe weather.

I'm David Eckoff. I'm on a mission to help businesses and residents in Virginia-Highland use social media and technology to their advantage.

This week we'll explore how to use a weather radio to protect your family during major storms.

In this column, we'll learn from one of the world's foremost authorities on the topic. And we'll hear about the experiences of Virginia-Highland residents.

What is a Weather Radio? It's Like a Smoke Detector for Storms

A weather radio constantly monitors severe weather alerts, such as tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings, and automatically alerts you to severe weather.

"It's like a smoke detector for storms," Bruce Thomas, Chief Meteorologist of Midland Radio Corporation told me by phone. "A weather radio sits in silent mode on your desk or nightstand. And when a severe weather watch or warning is issued for your county, it automatically comes on and alerts you."

Why You Must Get One, Now

We live in the heart of what's called ‘Dixie Ally,’ an area that is particularly vulnerable to violent tornadoes. It’s not a matter of if severe weather will hit. It’s when

April 27, 2011 was the deadliest tornado day in the United States since 1925. On that day, tornadoes caused 292 deaths in 16 states, including 15 people dead in Catoosa County, Georgia.

"If you had a weather radio in your home when this tornado outbreak occurred, you would have known many hours in advance that you were under a tornado watch,” Thomas said. “You would have known tens if not more than 30 minutes in advance that there was a tornado warning in your county. Those kinds of things save lives."

When there's a tornado outbreak you need information as soon as possible to keep your family safe. Every minute counts. It could be a matter of life or death. Especially in the middle of the night.

"In February 2007, a tornado at 2:00 AM hit a golfing community in Florida and killed 20 people," Thomas said. "We have testimonials from people who had weather radios who got their families up and they took shelter and survived it. Other people didn't survive it."

Virginia-Highland resident and neighborhood safety advocate Greg Gongola saw the devastation of the April tornadoes and decided to get a weather radio.

"People who are experts in personal safety recommended getting one," Gongola said. "And the rash of severe storms in the southeast this year made me decide to get one."

How to Choose A Weather Radio

There are many different models available.

"All you need for weather safety is the WR100,” Thomas said. “It offers you the ability to program it, has battery backup power and is public alerts certified. It sells for $29.”

But the model I recommend is the Midland WR300, the company’s top of the line unit that sells for $53 on Amazon.com. I like this model because it allows you to deselect certain events you may not want to be warned for. For example, if you don't want to be woken up by alerts for severe thunderstorm warnings, but do want to be woken up by alerts for tornado warnings.

Virginia-Highland resident Troy King got this model.

"I ordered a WR300 weather radio after recent severe storms," King said. "Through my research, this seemed to be the best for the price. I like that you can program the counties you want to receive the alerts for, so that you are not woken up for far away storms. What I also like about it is that you can tell it what type of alerts to notify you on."

If you travel a lot, Midland’s new HH54VP is a handheld mobile device that you can use at home or on the go. It has a travel button that allows you to travel anywhere in the U.S. and get weather and warnings without programming it.

No matter which weather radio you choose, be sure it has S.A.M.E. technology (Specific Area Message Encoding), which allows you to tell the device to only warn you about where you live.

Set It Up Is Easy

Midland sent me a WR300 to review. I took it out of the box. Read the instructions. Plugged it in. Turned it on. Set up was fast and easy.

"You set your radio to the correct channel for your area first,” Thomas said. “Then optionally narrow down the types of warnings."

Midland provides free technical support by phone if you need it.

"We have a technical support number with five people who sit here all day long and answer the phone and help people program their radios if they need help," Thomas said.

Once it’s set up, it’s unobtrusive until there’s a severe weather alert.

"It's like a smoke detector,” Thomas said. “Once you put your battery in it and set it up, you let it do its thing. It's there like a sentinel looking for weather alerts."

Advice That Could Save Your Life

Bruce Thomas has seen the tragic devastation that tornadoes can bring and he offers this suggestion.

"Get a weather radio before you need it," Thomas said. “And make a family plan for what you're going to do when it alerts you. Rehearse that plan. And follow that plan. That could save your life."

Thomas suggests this Red Cross tornado safety checklist.

Take Action Now - Where to Buy

I urge you to get a weather radio today. And the benefit to you is that you’ll protect your family when severe weather happens.

You can buy a weather radio from online stores such as Amazon.com, which carries a wide selection at low prices. You can also buy locally at Kroger, Publix, Walgreen and Walmart.

And please share this article with your friends and family via Facebook and email, so they can be safe, too.

The bottom line: We live in "Dixie Alley," an area vulnerable to violent tornadoes. When there's a tornado outbreak you need information as soon as possible to keep your family safe. Get a weather radio to alert you. And make a family plan of action for what to do when severe weather happens.

David Eckoff August 18, 2011 at 09:52 PM
An update: Bruce Thomas, Chief Meteorologist of Midland Radio Corporation, tells me by email today that the new WR120 replaces the WR100 weather radio this summer and it is now available to retailers like Kroger, Walgreens and Walmart across the Southern U.S.; and on Amazon.com; for around $30 dollars.

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