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Weather receivers become a necessity when conditions get rough

Desktop all-hazards weather radio by Midland.
courtesy of Midland Corporation

With Mother Nature unleashing bigger and badder storms lately, NOAA weather radios have become big sellers, especially in areas prone to tornadoes, floods and blizzards.

In fact, the National Weather Service claims they are as important as smoke detectors, and every home should have one.

NOAA weather broadcasts are nothing new. They have been around for about 40 years, with more than 1000 transmitters covering all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, plus U.S territories in the Pacific.

Initially, the broadcasts had a single frequency, 162.55 MHz, but eventually expended to seven to mitigate interference and improve coverage.

Current weather receivers on the market are very advanced - far more than your dad's old one channel VHF receiver. (Anyone remember the "Weather Cube" sold by Radio Shack in the 1970s?)

Modern weather radios can work on multiple power sources - some are portable with text displays showing the type of emergency, and others are built into devices like multi-band and CB radios.

According to Consumer Search, the better radios include SAME technology which lets the user program a specific location, generally by county, or any number of different locations using six digit codes.

What's more, NOAA weather radio is part of the Emergency Alert System, and provides warnings about non-weather events such as chemical spills, nuclear power plant emergencies and even Amber Alerts.

Many weather radio users remember "Paul," the first synthesized computer voice that replaced taped human voices in 1997.

Paul was considered high tech back in the day, but was hard to understand because of run-on words and odd pronunciations.

Five years later, Paul was replaced: "The National Weather Service embarked on a Voice Improvement Processor (VIP) program in late 2000, and implemented newer text-to-speech voices nationwide in 2002, nicknamed 'Donna' and 'Craig'."

"The 'Donna' voice was improved, 'Craig' was replaced by 'Tom', and a Spanish voice 'Javier' was added at a few sites," according to the NWS information web page.

Weather radio is useful for hobbyists, too. With so many transmitters on the air, it's possible to pick up many of the NOAA channels at the time, depending on time of day and other factors.

For a look at some of the highest rated weather receivers on the market, click here.