Powering through the Gulf of Mexico, Isaac has strengthened from a tropical storm to a hurricane and is expected to make landfall by morning. Hundreds of thousands of residents have already lost power. Those who have been through this before know that in an emergency, a weather radio can be a lifesaver. These radios feature special weather warnings and forecasts that can't be heard on AM/FM models. They typically feature hand-cranks and solar panels for recharging; alarms to alert rescue searchers; flashlights and even cell-phone chargers. Consumer Reports has checked out a few models including one from the American Red Cross.
Known as the "Voice of NOAA's National Weather Service," NOAA weather radio is a nationwide network of radio stations provided as a public service by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The broadcasts of official warnings, watches, forecasts and other hazard information come directly from the nearest National Weather Service office 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The weather service has 1000 transmitters, covering all 50 states, adjacent coastal waters, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the U.S. Pacific Territories. NOAA radio requires a special radio receiver or scanner capable of picking up the signal. Broadcasts can be found in the VHF public service band at seven frequencies from 162.400 MHz to 162.550 MHz.
The National Weather Service doesn't recommend one brand of radio over another but it does suggest that people look for receivers that carry the Public Alert and/or the NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards logo. Devices with this logo have been evaluated by the weather service for user friendliness and performance capabilities. The radios cost from $20 to $200. Here are four that we found that pick up the NOAA broadcasts but you'll find others on the market as well.
The Eton American Red Cross Solar Link FR600, $80, is a combination radio, flashlight, cell-phone charger, and clock that can be powered in three ways (crank, solar, or battery). Available at the Red Cross Store.
If all you want is a radio with a weather band, the Kikkerland Dynamo Solar Crank Radio, $32, will do. It can be charged quickly by crank or slowly with a solar cell. Available on amazon.com. Also available on Amazon is the Jensen Portable Weather Band Radio, $40, which features an AM/FM receiver plus a handy LED flashlight.
The Swiss Tech BodyGard Survivor, $25 looks like a walkie-talkie but does a lot for its size. It has an FM radio, LED flashlight, and compass, plus it can charge a cell phone or MP3 player. Available at Swiss Tech Tools.
—Mary H.J. Farrell