Thursday, March 1, 2012

Make Sure that You Have a Way to Receive Severe Weather Warnings At Night

It feels like I've mentioned it a thousand times here on the blog, but this is the first time I've dedicated an entire post to the subject.  One of the most important things that you can do to protect your family during severe weather season is to make sure that you have a way to receive severe weather warnings when you are the most vulnerable - when you're asleep in your bed at night!

In this post I'll review 3 of the easiest ways for you to receive a severe weather warning at night.

The first way to receive a weather warning at night is not a new one:  a NOAA Weather Radio with a battery back-up and S.A.M.E. technology (the last part might be new to you, and I'll explain it shortly).

This is one of the easiest and most widely accepted ways that you can ensure that you'll receive a nighttime weather warning.  It may also be the least expensive, depending on your personal situation with cellphones, etc. (which we'll get to in a moment).

The above is a NOAA Weather Radio made by Midland, the leader in NOAA Weather Radio production in the U.S.  It features S.A.M.E. technology, which is very important.  S.A.M.E. (which stands for Specific Area Message Encoding) allows you to pre-program your weather radio to only sound the alarm in the event that a specific type of weather warning is issued for your area.  

Back in "the old days" the NOAA Weather Radio sounded its alarm (which was ear piercing) anytime a warning was issued within the entire listening area of the radio transmitter (which can be 10-12 counties - or more).  With S.A.M.E. technology, the alarm will only sound for the county or counties that you pre-program into the radio.  You can also choose a specific type of warning (i.e., severe thunderstorm, tornado, flash flood, etc.).  

S.A.M.E. technology is not really new, but it may be new to you.  I bought a NOAA Weather Radio at RadioShack when I was 10 years old.  S.A.M.E. wasn't around back then.  Midland built the radio so well that it lasted 25 years!  So, the technology was new to me when I had to replace the radio some years back.  You might be in the same situation.  If so, and if you find yourself turning off your NOAA Weather Radio because it always "goes off" for every county in your area, it might be time to invest $30-40 and purchase a new model with the programming technology built in!

Because of my great experiences in purchasing weather radios there for many years, I always recommend RadioShack if you're in the market for a new or replacement model.  Most of the stores will even help you program your new radio as well (if they won't do it, send me an e-mail and I'll help you myself).  Take a look at this post, the NOAA Weather Radio Buyer's Guide, for more details on this inexpensive, potentially life saving technology and how you can get it.

This next way to receive a severe weather warning at night might be new to you.  It was to me until about 30 days ago (and I consider myself a tech junkie - I just hadn't looked into the technology until recently because I tend to be up anyway when "bad" weather is going on).  In general, I'm talking about smartphone apps that will alert you to severe weather warnings issued for your area.  Specifically, I'm talking about the "iMapWeather Radio" application for the iPhone.

This app is $9.99 in the AppStore.  Kind of pricey as apps go, but the technology is very impressive - and it may save your life one day.

In a nutshell, the iMap Radio app does the same thing the NOAA Weather Radio with S.A.M.E. technology does, but it goes a step further...

While the NOAA Weather Radio and the iMap Radio application will both alert you to a pre-selected warning area and watch or warning type, the iMap Radio app goes a step further.  It uses GPS technology to lock-in your specific latitude and longitude location.  It will then literally warn you only if that specific location is included in the National Weather Service's warning polygon.  The NOAA Weather Radio warns you if any part of the entire county is warned on - not a specific geographic location within that county.

I tested both the NOAA Weather Radio and the iMap Radio app one night in January when we had severe storms here in the Austin area.  Sure enough, when a Severe Thunderstorm Warning polygon was issued for extreme Eastern parts of Hays county (which is the county in which I reside), the NOAA Weather Radio went off immediately.  The iMap Radio app, however, did not alert me, because my specific GPS location was not within the warning polygon (I live in the other part of the county that wasn't in the warning polygon area).

What exactly am I talking about with regard to polygons and all?  The above image shows the specific warning example that I was talking about.  The NWS warning polygon is outlined in red (as noted on the image).  My location in Hays county is at the tip of the yellow arrow (just to the West of the warning polygon).  Since any part of Hays County (as shown in white) was located in the warning polygon, the NOAA Weather Radio dutifully sounded the alert.  However, since my precise GPS location was just outside of the warning polygon, the iMap Radio app did not alert me.

I guess you could call the iMap app "NOAA Weather Radio with S.A.M.E. alert on steroids".  NOAA is under pressure to include GPS location technology in a new generation of weather radios, but I'll be completely honest when saying that there's no telling when that will happen.

The iMap Radio app is currently exclusive to iPhone technology.  They are reportedly developing an Android version of the application and I'll be sure to update this post when that technology becomes available.  In the meantime, Android users should search the Android Market for a similar technology (be sure to include GPS technology in your search where applicable).  I don't have an Android phone in my house, so I don't have a specific recommendation there at this time.  Any Android users with a similar technology that would like to post the source in comments are more than welcome to do so...

Finally, I'd like to point out a third method by which you can receive severe weather alerts at night:  text messaging services.  Many of these are free, sponsored by local TV and/or radio stations.  A quick search of the websites of major network stations in your area will likely reveal such a source.  

There are also several companies across the country that offer such a service free or for a small fee.  A quick google search of "free text weather alerts" will bring up a myriad of potential sources.

This technology is generally the most primitive of the 3 choices presented in this post.  There is often little room for customization, although most will allow you to specify at least the county that you'd like to be warned upon.  

With all of the above in mind, it's always a good idea to have a back-up.  If you choose either the smartphone app, or the free text alert programs, I strongly suggest also having a NOAA Weather Radio on hand as a back-up should one of the other sources fail to deliver.

Whatever the method, make sure that you and your family have a way to receive severe weather warnings at night.  It may prove to save your life - with little to no financial investment...

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In the interest of full and complete disclosure, I'd like to point out that none of the companies mentioned above have compensated me in any way to promote their products in this post.  Furthermore, none are paid advertisers on this blog (I don't have any paid advertiser's on this blog, for that matter).  I mention the products because I have tested them, use them, and believe in them.  As a result, I'm passing the information on to you.

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