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Best Weather Radios: 2020 Buyer’s Guide with Leading Portable and Desktop Models

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Weather radios are designed to receive weather alerts concerning natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornados, storms, and more. The American and Canadian governments are both responsible for broadcasting these crucial weather alerts. In America, the NOAA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are in control of broadcasting these alerts using high-frequency radio networks. When disaster strikes, you need to use the best weather radios, which are designed to receive these alerts around the clock and come loaded with a variety of features that will help you stay informed in the event of a natural disaster.

But considering there are so many models of weather radios on the market to choose from, you may have a tough time finding one that comes loaded with the features you need and one that offers a reliable performance, which will be crucial in the event of a weather emergency. I’ve created this buyer’s guide to go over all the must-have features you need to look for to ensure you purchase a radio that can comes loaded with all of the crucial features you need. I’ve also included recommendations for the leading products on the market, each of which earned high marks in a variety of areas including performance, overall quality, and durability. Below, you’ll find a comparison chart that includes many of the important features each of these radios has to offer, in addition to how it rated.

Weather Radios Comparison Chart

ProductDesignPre-programmed
Channels
External
Antenna
Rating
Midland - WR120B
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Desktop7No
Vonidor Weather Radio
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PortableNoneYes
Midland - WR400
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Desktop7No
Kaito KA500
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Portable7Yes
Outtdoor Weather Radio
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PortableNoneYes

Best Overall – Midland NOAA Emergency Weather Alert Radio


Our Rating: (5/5)

This top-selling model by Midland comes equipped with seven channels and offers thunderstorm, tornado, and flood warnings. It also operations using SAME technology, so you can control what type of alerts you receive, based on your location. The LED flashing lights will help to capture your attention when an alert is administered. This model can receive alerts twenty-four hours a day and features a large, easy to read display, complete with a backlit design, so you can easily view alerts even in poor lighting conditions. The included alert override feature will switch over automatically to warn you of any incoming inclement weather.

Users are also able to choose the tone alert type including audible tone, display alerts, or voice alerts. This model comes with twenty-five programmable counties, so you can check on weather conditions in other areas. This model can also be used as an alarm clock, complete with a snooze button. While it operates on AC power, it also comes with three backup double A batteries, so you can stay in tune, even in the event of a power outage.

Pros

  • Battery backup
  • Doubles as an alarm clock
  • Backlit display
  • Receives twenty-four-hour alerts
  • SAME technology

Cons

  • Not portable
  • Designed for indoor use only

Conclusion

This model comes with a variety of bells and whistles, offers an excellent range, has a battery backup option so you can still receive alerts in the event of a power outage, and doubles as an alarm clock. This is a stationary model, so it’s not a good choice if you’re looking for a portable device you can take with you when you’re camping or on the go.

Best Portable Option – Vonidor NOAA Weather Radio


Our Rating: (5/5)

If you need a portable model, this new model by Vonidor is an excellent choice. It will alert you of any inclement weather reports in your area, giving you plenty of time to prepare. This model runs on a couple of double A batteries, so you won’t have to worry about losing touch with the NOAA system, in the event of a power outage. The included six-inch telescoping antenna will ensure you get the best reception possible, even in hilly terrain. The compact size allows you to stash this device anywhere, whether it’s a coat pocket, purse or backpack.

Pros

  • Highly portable
  • Battery-powered
  • Great reception
  • Low price

Cons

  • Does not have a twenty-four-hour alert feature that switches the radio on in the event a weather bulletin is released
  • Does not use SAME technology

Conclusion

This model doesn’t come with any fancy features, such as SAME technology, or twenty-four-hour alerts. Instead, you’ll have to switch this model on manually. However, if you need a portable device, one that offers excellent reception and is available at an affordable price, then this model is a great buy.

Best NOAA Radio – Midland Deluxe NOAA Emergency Weather Alert Radio


Our Rating: (4.5/5)

This model comes with seven preprogrammed weather band channels complete with civil danger, thunderstorm, tornado, and flood warnings. This model will send an alert to warn you of any risks of weather emergencies and other important information. It also comes with SAME technology, so you can lock automatically onto alerts received in your area. You can choose to customize the alerts and program your device to receive warnings and alerts for up to twenty-five different counties. You can also choose the type of alert you’ll receive, whether it’s a visual LED flashing light, voice alert, or a siren alarm. This is a stationary model that runs on AC power, but you can also use four double A batteries to keep your radio working in the event of a power outage. The built-in alarm clock includes AM and FM radio and a snooze button. If you’re using the AM or FM radio, the device will automatically switch to any important weather alerts.

Pros

  • Seven pre-programmed channels
  • SAME technology
  • Choose between three different types of alerts
  • Choose from twenty-five counties in your area

Cons

  • Alarm clock feature is difficult to use

Conclusion

This model is easy to use, very customizable and allows you to choose from several counties in your area, so you can stay up to date of any bad weather headed your way. Versatile, beginner-friendly, and reasonably priced, this is a device that has what it takes to keep you informed around the clock.

Best For Backpacking – Kaito KA500 5-way Powered Solar Power


Our Rating: (4.5/5)

This model runs on both solar power and a hand crank generator. It can also operate on three double A batteries or an AC power adapter. Basically, this is one versatile model. It comes with seven pre-programmed channels and provides around the clock weather forecasts. The UVB port can be used to connect to LED flashlights, a digital camera, an MP3 player, a GPS unit, and more. The large telescopic antenna can extend just over fourteen inches, providing top of the line reception for forty miles.

Pros

  • UVB port
  • Seven pre-programmable stations
  • Excellent reception
  • Runs on solar, AC, generator, battery power options

Cons

  • Struggles with reception in hilly environments

Conclusion

This model is designed for both indoor and outdoor use. Its housing is made out of ABS material and it features a water-resistant design that’s able to withstand heavy rainfall. This model is highly portable and suitable for camping, hiking, and home use.

Best Waterproof  Model – Outtdoor Emergency Weather Crank Radio


Our Rating: (4/5)

This model will automatically alert you of any serious weather headed your way, will send reminder alerts when the bad weather advances and works as a smartphone charger and flashlight. It comes complete with NOAA, AM, and FM stations. The included power bank on the radio will allow you to charge your phone, in the event of a power outage and can also provide up to twenty hours of flashlight use or twenty hours of radio use. The device runs via batteries, solar energy, or you can use the hand-crank generator. The large LCD screen will show you channel, volume, and battery information. Once bad weather is headed your way, an alert will flash across the screen.

Pros

  • Large LCD display
  • Solar-powered, hand-crank generator, battery power options
  • Can be used indoors and outdoors
  • Includes AM and FM radio stations
  • Can be used to charge smartphones

Cons

  • Weak AM/FM radio reception
  • Does not use SAME technology

Conclusion

This model tends to struggle with AM and FM radio reception, especially if you’re in a wooded area, or a crowded suburban environment. In terms of weather alerts, this model delivers, alerting you immediately of any incoming inclement weather. Since it features a durable waterproof design, it’s perfect for both indoor and outdoor use and is highly portable.

Weather Radios Buyer’s Guide

In this guide, I’ll go over the basic design options you’ll have to choose from, the features you’ll find yourself relying on the most, and what to look for in a weather radio that can help you to determine which model has what it takes to help you get through a natural disaster.

Weather Radio Designs

Each type of radio is able to receive NOAA or NWR radio signals which are broadcasted during a natural disaster. These radios are available in a couple of design options: weather alert and weather band. Each type offers its own pros and cons, so it will ultimately be up to you to determine which type offers the type of functionality that works for you.

Weather Band

This type of radio has to be tuned to a certain weather station in order to receive weather alerts and information. But these devices are not without their limitations. If you’re in the middle of trying to locate a weather station, if the power shuts off suddenly, or even if the radio is off and has been tuned to a different station, you will not receive any weather bulletins. This can cause you to miss important emergency warnings.

Weather Alert

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These radios are specifically designed for emergency use and will alert you automatically if any type of emergency bulletin is issued. Even if you have the radio switched to AM or FM radio, the alerts the radio receives will override AM and FM radio and will automatically tune into the NWR broadcast. Some people may see this as a drawback, but considering the radio is specifically designed to receive weather bulletins, this is a great safety feature and one that ensures you’re always informed of serious weather conditions that are headed your way. These radios can operate on both electricity and battery power.

Indoor/Outdoor Use

Where do you plan on keeping this radio? Do you want a model that can handle indoor and outdoor use? Do you need a model that’s more travel-friendly or do you plan on setting it up in the home? Radios that are designed for home setups will have alarms that will go off when an emergency alert is broadcasted. This type of radio is larger and designed for a permanent setup, so it mainly runs via AC power. These radios will also come equipped with the specific area message encoding, or SAME technology. This feature utilizes advanced technology that will allow you to adjust the settings on your radio in order to only receive local weather alerts.

Battery-Powered

For portable radios that are travel-friendly and designed for outdoor use, you can use compact, lightweight radios that operate solely on batteries. Some will use replaceable batteries, while others operate on rechargeable batteries. These radios are not specifically designed for weather alerts, however, they do work well in the event of an emergency. The big drawback with these portable models is the fact that some aren’t certified for the public alerts and don’t usually come equipped with SAME technology.

But if you need a radio you can use outdoors, then a model that’s highly portable is a must. Most portable models feature a lightweight design and slim profile, so you can stash one in a backpack or purse.

Desktop

Desktop models are much larger and need to be plugged into an outlet. While there are some desktop radios that also have a battery backup, their larger size does not make them suitable for outdoor use. Pocket-sized models are obviously the better choice if you’re planning a hiking trip and want to use a radio that won’t add too much weight to your pack.

Alert Options

These radios are designed to switch on whenever a weather bulletin has been posted by the NOAA. However, it’s important that you choose a model that allows you to select how often you want to receive these alerts since getting a weather bulletin at two in the morning for heavy rainfall can be alarming and not necessary. Manufacturers have wised up to this problem and now produce models that allow you to adjust the settings so only life-threatening weather conditions will trigger an alert. As an example, a user can block an alert that warns them of heavy fog approaching, and instead, the radio will only switch on if a tornado, major storm, or hurricane is headed their way.

Reception

These devices will come equipped with a built-in whip antenna. These antennas will receive signals, however, you may still have some issues with reception. If you have trouble receiving reports from NWR in your area, then you may need to use an external antenna. Some models will come with a jack for an external antenna, which will allow you to attach an antenna to the radio in order to allow you to receive these high-frequency signals. If you live in an area where it’s challenging to receive NWR reports then you should consider purchasing a model that comes with this type of external antenna port.

Power

If you live in an area that often experiences power outages, then you’ll want a radio that comes with a battery backup. These devices will still operate via AC power, but once the power goes out they will automatically switch to battery power. You can also check out models that operate on solar power or hand-crank generators. Both of these options are great for the hiker or avid camper.

Volume

Most models can provide weather alerts, even if the radio isn’t on. Because of this, you’ll need to adjust the volume level and the alert type. Some models will only emit a single sound, while others will allow you to choose from different types of alerts and tones.

Durable Housing

Obviously, the more durable one of these devices is, the better, especially if you need to carry it with you. This type of radio can be a true lifesaver in the event of a natural disaster. Because of this, you need to choose a model that’s easy to use and comes with a durable housing that can handle being dropped without cracking.

Charger

Do you want a model that operates on rechargeable batteries? Then look for a device that comes with a mobile charger that allows you to charge your radio’s battery pack on the go.

Lights

Some models will also come with built-in lights, doubling as a flashlight. A model with this feature will definitely come in handy if you’re dealing with a power outage, or if you take it camping or hiking.

Hearing Disabled Features

Some devices are specifically designed for people who are hearing impaired. These models will come equipped with an external jack that will allow the user to connect it to another type of device such as a strobe light, which works to immediately capture their attention.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Proactive Alert?

Some models will take weather alert technology a step further and use proactive alerts when a dangerous weather situation occurs. A special tone is transmitted by the NOAA when an emergency arises. Many radios work constantly to monitor for this type of tone, then switch themselves on. The issue here is that the alerts the NOAA transmits tends to cover a very large area, so you may end up getting an alert for an area that’s not close by. If this happens often, then you’ll find yourself starting to ignore these alerts, which can increase your chances of missing an important alert for your county.

What is the Basic NOAA Weather Broadcast Range?

In most instances, the average broadcast range over level terrain is around forty miles. This range can be impacted by the power and height of the transmitting antenna, the type of terrain, and the quality of the radio you’re using, in addition to whether you’re using an outdoor or indoor antenna. Before you purchase a new model, make sure that your specific country is covered by one of the NOAA transmitters.

 How Can I Stayed Tuned in When I Travel?

If you’re traveling to a different part of the country and you want to stay tuned into the NOAA, you can head straight to the NOAA website where you’ll find maps of the weather radio coverage based on each state, as well as counties.

Will my Radio Work in Canada?

Yes. Canada also has its own weather radio network which operates on the same frequencies that the American weather radio system does.

Why Does Signal Quality Seem to Vary?

Reception quality tends to vary based on atmospheric conditions. You’ll notice more of a change once you’re closer to the edge of the transmitter’s coverage area. There are many other factors that can impact reception quality. Mountains, hills, deserts, wooded areas can significantly reduce range, while large bodies of saltwater tend to increase range. In suburban environments, concrete and steel can also negatively impact reception, while you’ll notice that at higher elevations the signal seems to improve. Additionally, reception can even change in your home based on the room you’re in. Moving from room to room or even just a few feet indoors can have an impact on reception quality.

If you’re struggling with poor reception indoors, it can help to move away from other electronics in the home and face a window. If you continue to deal with a poor signal, then you may need to purchase an external antenna.

Final Thoughts

The best weather radios will offer an excellent range and reception, come equipped with adjustable features that will allow you to choose the area that you receive the alerts in, how often, and even how loud these alerts are. The device should come with an internal antenna and/or an external antenna, which is designed to boost your reception. If you’re planning on using the radio when you’re traveling, hiking, or camping, then it should feature a lightweight portable design and a long battery life. An AC powered device should allow you to use batteries as a backup, in the event of a power outage. This buyer’s guide and the included product recommendations will steer you in the right direction, so you can choose the right model that will suit your needs, whether it’s a large stationary desktop model or a portable device. Each of these products scored well in a variety of areas, so I’m confident you’ll find the perfect radio that’s designed to keep you informed of weather alerts, around the clock.