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Give A Gift That Saves Lives
 by: Joe Ebner

An Inexpensive NOAA Weather Radio Can Give You The Time To Seek Safety.

Shortly before sunrise on November 16 an F3 tornado ripped through the tiny community of Riegelwood, NC. Within seconds 8 people were dead and 20 more were seriously injured. Among the dead were 4 children under the age of 12.

The tornado struck at a bad time. Most of the residents were still asleep or just beginning their day. There was little warning. The National Weather Service office in Wilmington, NC issued a tornado warning at 6:29 am. Eight minutes later the tornado touched down.

Severe Weather Can Strike At Any Time

Severe weather like tornadoes and thunderstorms can strike with little warning. They develop very quickly and their lifespan is relatively short. But during their brief time tornadoes bring terrible destruction, injury and loss of life. Other weather-related events like flash flooding and lightning can put many lives in jeopardy.

While we currently don't have technology to control the weather, we do have technology in place that can warn us to approaching severe weather and give us enough time to seek safety.

Weather Warnings by Radio

NOAA Weather Radio is perhaps one of the best kept secrets in the United States. Many of us are unaware that the National Weather Service operates nearly 1,000 radio transmitters throughout the country. The transmitters are in operation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week continuously streamming current weather conditions, forecasts, warnings, and other crucial weather information.

NOAA Weather Radio advises people of severe weather watches and warnings, buying extra time for people to react before dangerous storms hit their area. When you're in the path of something like a tornado, seconds can mean the difference between life and death.

However, a special kind of radio receiver is needed that is capable of receiving the alerts. Special NOAA Weather Radios are available in electronics stores, sporting goods stores, marine supply stores, and on the Web. They are inexpensive (starting at about $30.00) and programmable for a specific area. NOAA Weather Radio receivers are built to utilize the features of NOAA Weather Radio.

Each advisory, watch, or warning transmitted by NWS is preceded by a special alert tone. When the radio detects the tones transmitted by the NWS, it activates itself. Weather Radios respond to the alert tones by activating a built-in audio or visual alarm. The alarm feature is especially useful for warnings that are issued during the night when most people are asleep.

SAME Technology

The best Weather Radios use SAME (Specific Area Message Encoding)technology. SAME uses a series of digital tones that identifies the type of warning being sent and the denotes the specific geographic location the event affects. SAME allows you to filter out distant warning broadcasts and monitor only those messages intended for your local area. For example if you live in a coastal county but not right on the beach, you may not be interested in a Coastal Flood Warning.

SAME technology is also the primary trigger for activating the Emergency Alert System used by commercial radio, television and cable TV outlets.

Each county in the U.S. is assigned a 6-digit code by the NWS. This code can be easily programmed into the radio (Detailed instructions for your area are included with the radio.). Once the code is set the radio responds only to alerts issued for the area programmed. If you move, the radio can be reprogrammed for your new location.

Depending on the model you choose, further programming can be done to minimize false alarms or to include neighboring counties in your alert area. This is important for those who live near county borders.

SAME radios are available in desktop and portable models. Portable radios allow you to take the radio with you wherever you go and they can be reprogrammed to work when you're on vacation or on the road. If you work outside or participate in outdoor activities a protable unit can alert you to unknown weather dangers wherever you happen to be.

For desktop models, a battery backup feature is important. Having the option to operate independent of commercial power will keep the receiver armed and working even if the power fails.

Weather Radio has evolved over the years to broadcast non-weather emergency information making the system an "All Hazards" network. Information of events such as chemical spills, earthquakes, and even terrorist attack are broadcast if the need arises.

While we cannot recommend any specific brand of receiver, we do recommend that the radio you consider buying comes with the Public Alert logo. The Public Alert Standard was adopted by the Consumer Electronics Association in conjunction with the National Weather Service. Radios that carry the Public Alert logo meet specific technical standards and include the features we mention here.

We have smoke detectors in our homes that alert us to fire. We have carbon monoxide detectors that alert us to potential deadly gasses from our furnaces/fireplaces/gas heaters. An NOAA Weather Radio should be included in your arsenal of weapons to safeguard against severe and deadly weather events. Early warnings of severe weather can give you just enough time to take cover.

Consider purchasing NOAA Weather Radios as gifts this holiday season. It could save the lives of those you love.

About The Author

Joe Ebner operates, a locally operated weather station and weather information website for residents and visitors to Topsail Island, NC. For Topsail Island Weather updated every 15 minutes, visit

This article was posted on December 11, 2006


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