Earlier, I wrote a post titled, “Stop believing in tornado sirens.” I hoped it would help convince readers that the decades-old technology is not the best way to learn of severe weather threats.
Now, here’s a bit more about better alternatives.
Weather alert radios
In the earlier post, I mentioned weather alert radios. There are several manufacturers and models. What you want is one that supports Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME). It’s a system that allows weather radios to remain silent until a warning is issued for your own county. This means there’s never any reason to turn off the radio. One of the least expensive is the Midland WR120. I’ve seen it priced at under $35. It’s available at most Walgreens pharmacies, as well as other local retailers. There are plenty of other choices. Just do a search on Amazon or any other shopping website for “weather alert radio same.”
Smartphone apps are another option. They have the advantage of using the phone’s GPS to know where you are and alert you of warnings for that location, even when you’re away from home. Be sure to choose an app that make a loud enough noise to wake you. One free option is the American Red Cross Tornado App for iPhones and Android phones. I have not tried this app but its description indicates it sounds a loud siren when the National Weather Service issues a tornado or severe thunderstorm warning.
I have used Weather Decision Technologies’ Weather Radio app. It’s also available for iPhones and Android phones but costs $4.99 (down from an earlier price of $9.99).
I’ve also tested the Storm Shield App from the E.W. Scripps Company. It’s also available for iOS and Android. Its price is $2.99.
Although they’re not free, both apps do much more than the free Red Cross app. For example, you can configure them to sound off for a variety of warnings, not just tornado warnings.
All three apps use the phone’s GPS to determine whether the phone is within the polygon that describes the specific warning area. If the phone is outside the polygon, the apps remain silent. This means you get no alarms for storms that might be in your county but will never affect you.
By the way, if you have a new enough smartphone, it probably supports Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), which means that even without installing an app, the phone will sound off when a tornado warning is issued for wherever you are. It depends on the device and the cell phone company. My old iPhone 4 did not support WEA, but the newer iPhone 4S does. Follow the link at the beginning of this paragraph to find out if your phone supports WEA.
I know of no other options that will wake you in the middle of the night. But during the daytime and evening when you’re still up, the following resources can be helpful:
Many local TV stations send subscribers text messages when the NWS issues weather warnings. Just visit the website of your favorite station to see what it offers.
Other websites also offer text messaging, some for free and some for a fee, including:
Not that if a storm destroys your nearest cell phone tower, that might keep you from getting text messages on time.
Local broadcast radio and television
If you know a watch has been issued, you can learn of warnings by keeping a radio or TV on and tuned to a local station. Most will automatically interrupt programming when the NWS issues a warning for their listening/viewing areas.
Local broadcasters and the NWS often post news of weather warnings on Twitter and Facebook. Social media, however, should never be your primary source of warning information, because warnings might not appear promptly enough.
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