Programming Your Weather Radio, Part 1 of 3

Hello all. It is Weather Wednesday and todays post is a 3 part post about programming a Weather Radio.This three part article is mainly for the beginner to Weather Radio, but there may be some seasoned listeners who may not fully understand how Weather Radios evolved from basic 3 channel units to 7 channels and as a multi function device. We will focus on programming the radio but we will briefly discuss the evolution of Weather Radios over the years.
There are many ways to access Weather Radio information these days and we touched on many of them in the last post. They have evolved from being 3 channel units that take a 9 volt battery for backup to 7 channel models with an ac plug or adapter and a 9 volt or AA batteries for back up. Most of them had an alert function but it was only the 1050 Hz tone alert until the nineteen nineties when the newer radios with a more sophisticated alert function were released to the public.
These new Weather radio Receivers use SAME technology, (Specific Area Message Encoding), which was discussed in detail in the last post. Some receivers have the capability to select which alerts you want to hear. However some alerts cannot be disabled audibly, such as a Tornado Warning.
Not all Weather Radios handle SAME technology identically. You should be able to at least program in the SAME six-digit FIPS or CLC county code for your county and adjacent counties, and on some receivers disable the siren or voice announcement for alerts that aren’t important to you. Some radios scan automatically for the strongest local reception from a NOAA Weather radio or Weatheradio Canada transmitter. We recommend that you download an instruction manual before you buy a Weather Radio to make sure it will do exactly what you want. NOAA now sends bulletins from the U.S. Emergency Alert System and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. These additional bulletins might include, for example, “Biological Hazard warning,” “Chemical Hazard warning,” and fire warnings.” In recent years, Amber Alerts have been added to the codes. In Canada, the warnings are issued by Environment Canada. The Weatheradio Canada network currently issues weather warnings at this time.
Some Weather Radios say they have NOAA WX coverage and WX “alerts.” If the radio does not use the SAME technology, your radio may alert on EVERY possible type of weather “watch” and “warning” if you live in The United States. However if you live in Canada, your radio will only receive the 1050 Hz. tone for: “severe thunderstorm warning”, “tornado warning”, “required monthly test” (RMT), and “administrative message” (ADR) when the watchdog kicks in.
Some “tone alert” radios have a function where a light comes on when there is an alert. If you just want to be able to tune in to the NOAA or Environment Canada weather reports on demand, you don’t necessarily need a SAME-enabled radio. You can get an inexpensive radio, scanner, or receive the broadcasts on various VHF radios. Some car manufacturers have even made radios that have the 7 weather channels, along with the standard AM and FM broadcast frequencies.
You should also understand the difference between weather “watches” and “warnings.” A “watch” means that conditions are “favorable” for an event. Many “thunderstorm watches” never result in actual thunderstorms, but most “Winter storm watches “result in either a “Winter storm warning” or one of the following: “snowfall warning”, “freezing rain warning,” or “Blizzard warning.” A “Warning” means that the actual event has been observed by a valid CANWARN/SKYWARN trained weather-watcher in the reporting area or there is strong evidence from weather radar that the event is occurring.
For the spring/summer severe weather season in Canada, a “severe thunderstorm watch” has a lead time of as much as 6 hours and a “severe thunderstorm warning” has an hour. A “tornado watch” has 3 hours and a “tornado warning” has 30 minutes or less. In the case of a winter weather event such as the ones mentioned above, there may be a lead time of as much as 36 hours for a watch and 18 hours or less for a warning. In the United States, these lead times may be similar to the above mentioned target times for watches and warnings in Canada.
Some people block Weather Watches because they may not want to hear the alarm unless there is a warning, especially if it is issued in the evening or late at night. For example, if you lived in Windsor Ontario during the evening of June 5th and the early morning of June 6, 2010, there were a few nocturnal weather events that happened in the area including severe thunderstorms and tornados. Remember, a Watch only means that conditions are “favorable” for a weather event to happen.
Next week, we will go into detail about programming your SAME enabled radio, using two popular WX radios as examples.

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