New Weather Radios for Tornado Season — Perks, Quirks and Pointless Things

thunderstorm forming

Ah, Spring -- won't be long now, so clean up the fishing gear, get out the seed packets, and check the batteries in the weather radio. Photo by codra at

Even if you spend your life glued to the computer or the TV Weather channel, you should own a simple weather radio that picks up essential warnings from your local NOAA station. When the weather gets really bad and power lines go down, you can be nearly certain that radio still works. Nearly. If you’re like me and you only use that radio to check travel advisories and radar reports during bad weather, you’re never quite sure it works until you switch it on and rap it with your knuckles. I have two weather radios, and I know where at least one of them is. I know I put the backup someplace handy, and someday I’ll look for it, again.

The Midland WR300 upgrades
the Midland radio that
saved lives in 2011.

Your local TV station always wants you to keep the flatscreen running and an eye glued to the local weather news when trouble looms. Turning on a portable weather radio can save your expensive electronics from lightning damage. When storms get close, I get an irresistable urge to unplug anything expensive, whether or not it’s plugged into a surge protector. Surge protectors work at least once. I’ve been through storms where lightning jolted the house half a dozen times and I’m sure many residents of the Midwest have similar stories to tell. Besides, you can listen to a weather radio from the basement in relative safety, when the smart thing to do is leave the weather person on TV to fend for themselves.

For a very reasonable price, you can purchase a dependable emergency radio that does much more than check the NOAA weather band. The choices of features some of the better radios include can be impressive, confusing and even in some cases, not very useful. The best in the recent crop of new models does show improvement over the last generation but nearly all the multi-purpose radios will do things you’ll probably never need.

The Midland WR120B announces
weather warnings in your
choice of three languages.

If you don’t wake up automatically at the first rumble of distant thunder and head for the weather news or the basement, the Midland WR300 can warn you and everyone in your house there’s trouble coming. The WR300’s alert system includes programmable SAME, a way of filtering out warnings for other areas of your state when you’re trying to get some serious sleep. Owners can program a scan to include just their immediate county of residence or up to thirty counties in their coverage area. When NOAA issues weather warnings for the chosen counties, the Midland WR300 sounds a loud alarm and flashes a text description of the alert on the radio’s display. If power goes out, the radio switches automatically to battery backup. It’s also a clock radio with snooze alarm and ordinary AM/FM reception, but it’s more watchdog than entertainment system.

Midland’s WR-120B Weather Alert Radio presents warning tones, voice messages or warning lights and announces the type of warning in your choice of English, Spanish or French. The smaller WR-120B works as reliably as the WR300 but provides a smaller set of SAME locations. Both radios use ordinary AA batteries for the power backup.

Packed with features most
owners won’t need.

About all the Midland clock-alarm radios lack is a handle for those times when you want grab-and-go news. Midland’s XT511 emergency radio covers the weather bands, has a basic weather-alert warning system, and a handle. You can also recharge the XT511’s battery with a built-in crank generator and even use it to charge your cell phone, if your cell uses a USB connector. A less useful perk might still fascinate some families, since the XT511 serves as a portable base station for a walkie-talkie network. You’ll need to provide walkie-talkies to anyone you want to talk to, unless someone interested in quaint artifacts of technology happens to wander through the disaster zone. Expect communication with others on the 22 channel network over a distance of about two miles.

Simple and strongly built,
with a useful selection of
features and a basic alarm.

The Eton NPT300WXB Axis includes something you’ll appreciate when recharging the radio with the built-in dynamo. The crank you’ll spin is aluminum, not plastic, and you’re not likely to snap it in frustration. The flashlight-sized grip and cabinet also give the unit stability and strength during that emergency charging process. In alert mode, the radio stays on but the speaker cuts out of the circuit, shifting back to audible when NOAA issues a warning tone. If you leave the radio on alert too long, the batteries run down, so it’s not a feature to use for extended periods. The Eton NPT300WXB also charges cell phones, either from the onboard batteries or the crank dynamo.

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