The Best Weather Radios for Emergencies

Weather radios broadcast emergency alerts to warn you of severe conditions, giving you time to gather essentials and seek shelter. Find the right model to keep informed and stay safe.

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Best Weather Radio Options

Photo: amazon.com

If you live in an area where tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, and other potentially disastrous weather events may occur, it’s crucial to have ready access to up-to-date information. Precious hours—even minutes—of advance warning let you gather vital supplies, find refuge, or prep for evacuation. Weather alerts are especially important during outdoor adventures like camping, fishing, and hiking, as unexpected severe weather such as thunderstorms, cold fronts, or heavy fog can put you off course, resulting in getting lost or injured.

The best weather radio will keep you informed about extreme conditions before they arrive and as they develop. Read on to learn about the features and factors to consider as you shop for a weather radio, and find out why the following models are considered among the best you can buy.

  1. BEST OVERALL: Midland ER210 Emergency Crank Weather AM/FM Radio
  2. RUNNER-UP: Raynic Weather Radio Solar Hand Crank Emergency Radio
  3. BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: RunningSnail Emergency Hand Crank Solar Weather Radio
  4. BEST FOR CAMPING: Kaito KA500RED 5-Way Emergency Weather Alert Radio
  5. BEST FOR BACKPACKING: Eton American Red Cross Emergency NOAA Weather Radio
  6. BEST DESKTOP: Midland WR400 NOAA Emergency Weather Alert Radio
  7. BEST COMPACT: Vondior NOAA Weather Radio – Emergency NOAA/AM/FM
  8. BEST WALKIE-TALKIES: Midland 50 Channel GMRS Two-Way Radio Walkie Talkie
Best Weather Radio Options

Photo: amazon.com

What to Consider When Choosing the Best Weather Radio

Selecting the best weather radio for your needs depends on a variety of factors. Bear in mind the counties you want information about, the type of alert you want to receive, and where you will be using the radio. Portability, for instance, might not be a factor at home, but if you’re out in nature, you’d want a lightweight, compact unit.

Purpose

Emergency weather radios provide severe weather condition alerts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other services for a given area. In locales where natural disasters have a season, such as tornado, hurricane, or wildfire, a weather radio can give the necessary time to collect essentials and take cover. For those who live in earthquake-prone places, even a few seconds of advance warning can help you take action for safety. Backup power, in case of a power outage, is an important benefit. If called upon to evacuate, having an extra portable radio in an emergency kit allows for continued connection to real-time information.

Campers, hikers, hunters, backpackers—anyone who enjoys spending extended time outdoors—should monitor local weather conditions. Severe storms, cold fronts, fog, and natural disasters increase risk of injury and becoming lost. Receiving alerts allows for preparation and finding safety. Look for durable radios that connect to NOAA channels with alerts, are small enough to fit in with the gear, and provide different methods for charging.

Type

Weather radios are available in different types and vary in functionality. Each type of radio connects to the NOAA weather bands, and some automatically lock onto the clearest signal.

Desktop weather radios often come with Specific Alert Message Encoding (S.A.M.E.) programming for zeroing in on a specific county or counties. When tuned to an AM/FM station, the radio will switch to the alert mode to provide essential info and updates. Some desktop radios let users select the types of alerts received. For instance, if you’re only interested in information about tornadoes and earthquakes, you can configure the radio so only these warnings come through.

Most portable radios will only send out an alarm when tuned to a NOAA band at the time of the alert. Generally used for outdoor activities, such as camping or hiking, these radios often come with flashlights, SOS signals, and other features geared to outdoor use. A waterproof radio is a smart choice for use outdoors. The ability to charge the unit via a hand crank or through a solar panel is another helpful feature.

Walkie-talkie radios connect you to your group while keeping you informed of the latest weather conditions. These radios have walkie-talkie features, such as a set number of channels, a communication range, privacy codes, and battery life. NOAA attributes will give you access to weather bands and send out alerts. The SOS on a walkie-talkie sometimes comes across as a distress call or locator for the other person in the group.

Size and Weight

Lightweight and small in size, portable radios can fit inside an emergency kit or backpack. They frequently come with a strap or handle for carrying on a trek or when using the unit as a flashlight; they can also be clipped to a backpack with a carabiner. Handheld radios are even smaller and can fit inside a pocket.

Best suited for home or office applications, desktop radios are heavier and larger, typically too bulky to carry around. In case of a power outage, a desktop radio usually has a battery backup.

Power

Power sources, charging methods, and battery life play a crucial role in reliability. Regardless of the application (home use, emergency kit, or outdoors), a weather radio should have multiple power sources and a strong battery life to ensure you’re not caught off guard. Look for a radio with a display that shows remaining battery life.

Rechargeable batteries ranging between 2,000 to 2,600 milliamps per hour (mAh) can provide an entire day of use before needing a recharge. Smaller radios, with 850 to 1,000 mAh batteries, should be used sparingly to extend power.

Hand cranks and solar panels allow you to recharge the battery on the go. If the sun isn’t out or you don’t have the time or ability to crank by hand, it’s wise to keep backup alkaline batteries on hand.

Some radios feature Micro-USB charging that let you use another power source, such as a laptop. Desktop and some portable models come with an AC adapter for keeping the radio powered.

Alerts

Different services deliver alerts and alarms to a weather radio.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an agency within the United States federal government, monitors the climate and environment to provide assessments and early predictions. NOAA broadcasts continuous weather information, gathered directly from the nearest National Weather Service office, on a nationwide network of radio stations. The NOAA transmits on seven megahertz (MHz) frequencies: 162.400 MHz, 162.425 MHz, 162.450 MHz, 162.475 MHz, 162.500 MHz, 162.525 MHz, and 162.550 MHz.

The National Weather Service (NWS) has offices across the country. It’s tasked with providing weather, water, and climate data through forecasts and warnings.

Specific Alert Message Encoding (S.A.M.E.) technology, typically found on desktop radios, allows you to program your radio to receive alerts only for weather events in your area.

When alerts come in, some radios have siren alarms, some have voice alerts, some have flashing lights, and some use a combination of any of the three.

Additional Features  

Weather radios, designed for outdoor activities, come with various extra features such as flashlights, reading lamps, and SOS beacons. Some even have glow-in-the-dark locators to help find the unit at night.

Most radios have AM/FM capabilities, and some come with shortwave as well. They also have USB charging for mobile devices. A few have Bluetooth for connecting devices and listening to music.

Both portable and desktop radios come with digital or analog tuning. Using an analog tuning knob at night or on the go can prove difficult in an emergency. All radios come with an antenna to receive the signal. Some weather radios include an external antenna jack that allows you to attach a larger antenna, which increases the chances of receiving a good signal should a signal fail to come through with the onboard antenna. Some radios have public alert certification to ensure you will receive reliable alerts applicable to your region.

Our Top Picks

The following weather radios were selected according to the criteria detailed above. They include products in a variety of categories, so you should be able to find the best weather radio for your needs among these picks.

Best Overall

The Best Weather Radio Options: Midland - ER210, Emergency Compact Crank Weather
Photo: amazon.com

This Midland weather radio features a NOAA weather scan and alert as well as AM/FM channels. It automatically sweeps through seven available weather band channels and locks on to the one with the strongest reception. When enabled, the “WX Alert” feature broadcasts any alert transmitted for the immediate area. The alert produces an audible siren, and the flashlight and LCD backlight flashes on and off for one minute.

Powered by three sources—solar panel, hand crank, and a rechargeable 2,000 mAh battery—this compact radio makes an ideal choice for camping, hiking, or relocating during disaster situations. The battery can last up to 25 hours of normal use. The radio also doubles as a phone or tablet charger.

The CREE LED flashlight also functions as an SOS beacon and flashes Morse code as a distress signal. The LCD displays the radio station, time, or weather channel as well as the remaining battery charge available.

Runner-up

The Best Weather Radio Options: Weather Radio Raynic 5000mAh
Photo: amazon.com

The Raynic weather radio is a solid choice to keep you informed and boasts a variety of extra features likely to be useful in an emergency. There are seven preset NOAA weather channels that can receive alerts concerning hurricanes, tornadoes, and other emergencies. To help ensure the radio will be ready when you need it, the Raynic boasts five power sources: solar panel, hand crank, built-in 5,000 mAh lithium-ion rechargeable battery, AC power charging, and three AAA batteries (not included).

The lithium-ion battery provides up to 14 hours of light, 12 hours of radio, and enough juice to charge a phone. The radio also features AM/FM and shortwave radio with standard analog tuning.

The portable radio can accompany you on outdoor adventures and features an attached compass, 3-watt flashlight, 2.5-watt reading lamp, and SOS signal light that flashes red.

Best Bang For the Buck

The Best Weather Radio Options: [Upgraded Version] RunningSnail Emergency Hand Crank
Photo: amazon.com

Staying informed can be very affordable. This well-priced RunningSnail weather radio delivers AM/FM radio as well as NOAA weather channels to keep you up to date regarding tornadoes, floods, storms, and other emergencies within a specified area.

There are three charging methods: a hand crank, a solar panel, and Micro-USB charging. You can also charge a mobile phone on the 1,000 mAh power bank so urgent calls and texts can be made and received. The 1-watt flashlight can come in handy during power outages or when finding your way in the dark.

Best For Camping

The Best Weather Radio Options: Kaito KA500RED 5-Way Powered Emergency
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Worrying about power shouldn’t be part of a camping adventure, and this Kaito radio features five different methods for powering and charging the built-in rechargeable 600 mAh NI-MH battery. It has a hand crank, USB cable, a 180-degree solar panel, 3 AA batteries (not included), and an AC adapter (sold separately). A low battery indicator lights up when the battery needs to be charged.

The NOAA-certified weather radio keeps users up to date on weather emergencies in real time with seven preprogrammed NOAA stations. A USB port allows for phone charging in case of a crisis or just to stay connected. An LED light functions as an adjustable LED reading lamp, an LED flashlight, or an SOS emergency signal.

Best For Backpacking

The Best Weather Radio Options: American Red Cross Emergency NOAA Weather Radio
Photo: amazon.com

It’s best to hit the trail equipped with an easy way to monitor conditions in a specified area. This small, lightweight American Red Cross weather radio by Eton broadcasts all seven NOAA weather stations, and its preprogrammed dial makes it a snap to flip through each station. The “Alert” function automatically broadcasts emergency alerts for the area, as long as the user is tuned into one of the weather band stations.

The radio comes with a 2,600 mAh battery and two charging solutions, a hand crank, and a solar panel, and the display lets you know when the battery runs low. The radio doubles as an alarm clock, a phone charger, an LED flashlight, and a red flashing beacon to alert others when in need of help. A glow-in-the-dark locator comes in handy when the sun goes down on the trail or anywhere.

Best Desktop

The Best Weather Radio Options: Midland - WR400, Deluxe NOAA Emergency Weather Alert Radio
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While it’s crucial to stay on top of local weather conditions, it can be just as important to be informed about areas where loved ones are. This Midland desktop weather radio offers S.A.M.E. programming for up to 25 counties. It also features the ability to program up to 80 types of emergency alerts for information on disasters, such as tornadoes, fires, floods, hurricanes. The radio automatically scans through all seven NOAA weather bands for up-to-date info.

When set to an AM/FM station, the radio switches to a hazard alert if one comes in. The radio locks onto the strongest channel to alert you of urgent updates and has three types of alarms: an 85-decibel siren alarm, a voice alert, or a visual LED flasher. If the power goes out, there’s a slot for four AA batteries (not included). The desktop radio can be used as an alarm clock with a snooze option and also acts as a charger for mobile devices.

Best Compact

The Best Weather Radio Options: NOAA Weather Radio
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Don’t get caught off guard when on the go. Keep track of weather conditions anywhere with this Vondior handheld NOAA weather radio. Its compact dimensions let it fit easily in a jacket or pants pocket or an emergency bag. The radio receives AM/FM signals as well as NOAA weather bands. It uses two AA batteries (not included) and can run for several days to provide real-time information. A DSP (Digital Signal Processor) chip and 6-inch telescoping antenna provide clear sound and reception.

Best Walkie-Talkies

The Best Weather Radio Options: Midland 50 Channel Waterproof GMRS Two-Way Radio
Photo: amazon.com

Stay connected with this pair of two-way radio walkie-talkies by Midland. They feature an ample 36-mile range communication in open areas and up to a 20-mile range in areas with partial obstruction; within city limits, the range is less than a mile. There are 50 General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) channels with channel scanning to check for activity. The radio also features 142 privacy codes with up to 3,124 channel options for blocking out other conversations.

The NOAA weather alert radio with weather scan locks onto local weather channels and provides warnings for severe conditions. The exterior protects the radio in all directions against light rain or splashing water. The rechargeable batteries last up to 10.94 hours.

In a crisis situation, the radio has an SOS siren that sends out distress and locator signals. It also comes with 10 call alerts in different tones to identify calls from within a group. In a hands-free situation, the sound activation transmission (eVox) mode works with voice activation. And, in a scenario where silence is best, a person can whisper on one end and be heard on the other.

FAQs About Weather Radios

For more information about weather radios, check out these answers to some of the most frequently asked questions. If additional concerns arise, contact the manufacturer.

Q. What is the difference between a weather radio and a regular radio? 

A weather radio connects to NOAA weather channels and receives real-time information and weather alerts for a specific area. A standard radio connects to AM/FM stations.

Q. How do I choose a weather radio?

Choosing a weather radio requires considering several factors, detailed in the above guide,  including type, purpose, home or outdoor use, power, and backup power. Also bear in mind what alarms and alerts are most important to you; whether you’d benefit from extra features, like a flashlight and SOS beacon; and your budget.

Q. What channel should my weather radio be on?

A desktop radio usually switches to a weather channel automatically when an alert comes in. For portable radios, there are seven NOAA frequencies: 162.400 MHz, 162.425 MHz, 162.450 MHz, 162.475 MHz, 162.500 MHz, 162.525 MHz, and 162.550 MHz. Most radios are preset to these seven stations and users can easily switch between them, though with portable models you must typically be tuned into one of the NOAA channels to receive the alert.

Q. Is there a weather radio app?

Yes: WeatherRadioApp.com.

Q. How long do weather radios last?

On standby mode, a weather radio can last up to 200 hours or eight days. If constantly in use, a radio with a 2,000 to 2,600 mAh rechargeable battery can last for about 24 hours. Smaller radios with 850 to 1,000 mAh batteries, when used sparingly, can deliver enough power for short-time use.