Having a NOAA Weather Radio in your home and workplace could save your life. Weather radios are designed to broadcast special frequencies and alert owners of hazards. The weather radio you buy can be set to silent until a warning of your choice occurs, at which point, it will alert you.
You cannot rely on television programs to warn you of an approaching tornado when the power is out. Only a weather radio, which is equipped with a backup battery, is only the truly fool-proof way to get your severe weather warnings. Even city-wide tornado sirens are fallible—tornadoes have been known to tear down siren alert systems in their paths.
NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards transmitters broadcast on one of seven VHF frequencies from 162.400 MHz to 162.550 MHz. The broadcasts cannot be heard on a simple AM/FM radio receiver. There are many receiver options, however, ranging from handheld portable units which just pick up Weather Radio broadcasts, to desktop and console models which receive Weather Radio as well as other broadcasts.
You can purchase a basic weather radio for as little as $20. They are sold at most electronics stores, including Radio Shack and Amazon.com.
Residential Grade Radios and Features (In the United States)
The National Weather Service will send a 1050 Hz tone alarm before most warning and many watch messages are broadcast. The tone will activate all the receivers which are equipped to receive it, even if the audio is turned off. This is especially useful for warnings which occur during the night when most people are asleep.
SAME, or Specific Alert Message Encoding allows you to specify the particular area for which you wish to receive alerts. Most warnings and watches broadcast over NOAA Weather Radio are county-based or independent city-based (parish-based in Louisiana), although in a few areas of the country the alerts are issued for portions of counties. Since most NWR transmitters are broadcasting for a number of counties, SAME receivers will respond only to alerts issued for the area (or areas) you have selected. This minimizes the number of "false alarms" for events which might be a few counties away from where you live.
Selectable alerting of events
While SAME allows you to specify a particular area of interest, some receivers allow you to turn off alarms for certain events which might not be important to you. For example, if you live in a coastal county, but not right at the beach, you might not care about Coastal Flood Warnings. This feature may also be called "Event Blocking" or "Defeat Siren".
Since power outages often occur during storms, having a receiver with battery backup can be crucial. However, unless you have a portable unit which you will use away from other power sources, an AC power connection is recommended to preserve battery life.
External antenna jack
While most receivers come with a whip antenna which can usually be extended out from the unit, depending on your location you may need an external antenna to get a good reception. Some receivers come with an external antenna jack (normally in the back of the unit) which will allow you to connect to a larger antenna (which can be indoors or outdoors). You can often purchase these as accessories at the same place where you bought your receiver, or from most stores with an electronics department. NWR broadcasts are in the Public Service VHF frequencies, just above FM radio and between the current TV channels 6 and 7 - so an antenna designed for analog VHF televisions or FM radios should work. Or, you can make your own antenna. Go to this web site for more information.
External device jack (special needs)
Some radios have a jack to plug-in external notification devices, such as strobe lights or bed shakers, which can be useful for those with special needs.