If you subscribe to our newsletter or blog, or follow us on social media, you know that we are always talking about weather safety. We recently posted that it is very important to have not just one, but more than one way to receive your weather information. Why? Because during hazardous weather and other emergencies, your usual way of getting important information may or may not be functional. In today’s blog, we will discuss ways you can receive National Weather Service warnings in a timely manner.
Results of a 2015 survey showed that the vast majority of Americans (92%) get their weather information from the internet, a weather app on their phone, or a TV meteorologist. There are still (believe it or not!) a fraction of people who still use physical newspapers and radio as their primary source. While this may be okay if the main question is “do I need to put a jacket on the kids this morning”, all of these sources of weather information can fail during emergencies. Some (newspaper) cannot provide timely information during rapidly changing weather conditions, others (hello, internet!) can fail during bad weather.
We encourage everyone to evaluate each of the options discussed below, and make sure that you have at least two ways to receive weather warnings in an emergency.
Wireless Emergency Alerts
The FCC Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) was launched in 2012 and has become a key part of emergency preparedness in the U.S. WEA ‘enables government officials to target emergency alerts to specific geographic areas’. Wireless providers voluntarily participate in WEA in partnership with the federal government. Warnings are broadcast from cell towers and received by enabled cell phones within the defined geographic area of the specific warning. Today, most wireless providers participate in this service, but you can check with yours to be sure. No app or paid service is required to receive these alerts, but you do need to have the option enabled on your phone- check your settings or contact your provider to ensure this is turned on. Once it is, you will receive not only National Weather Service warnings for your location, but also Amber alerts, other public safety alerts, and presidential alerts. These text alerts do not incur data use or charges.
Let’s face it, anyone who is watching live TV these days has had this experience: you are in the middle of a show or ball game and the loud beep happens. Suddenly your show is interrupted and your local meteorologist is on-air, talking about weather warnings for your area. As irritating as this may be, it is an important part of the job of broadcast meteorologists. When this happens, it is very important to pay close attention to where the warning is for, and what the meteorologist is advising those under the warning to do. Taking quick and decisive action in an emergency can prevent injuries.
NOAA Weather Radio
NOAA Weather Radios are useful if you are often at home and need a way to receive weather warnings. The alarm can be set so it will even wake you up if there are warnings in your county at night- something helpful if you are in an area of the country where nighttime tornadoes can occur. With their battery backup, these radios will even function if the power goes out. They are inexpensive and easy to find- Walmart, hardware stores, and even Amazon carry them.
You probably know that your cell phone has countless weather apps from which you can receive weather forecasts and warnings. How do you know which one to choose? Below you will find a survey of just a few of the more commonly used weather apps. We at STM don’t endorse any one particular app, and this list is by no means exhaustive. The most important thing is to make sure that whichever app you choose will send you notifications when weather warnings are occurring.
Standard weather app (iPhone)
Apple partners with The Weather Channel to provide you with its standard weather app that is automatically installed on every iPhone. It provides current weather conditions and a forecast, but does not give you radar imagery- something which can be valuable if you know your location and want to see where the rainfall is. You can set multiple locations, or use the location-based service, and the app will show warnings on the screen. It is free on every iPhone.
Google Weather App (Android)
Like the iPhone weather app, the Google weather app is also partnered with The Weather Channel. It also provides location-specific forecasts and warnings, but it also will show some basic radar imagery. This app also will push warning notifications to your phone, and is free with your Android phone.
Accuweather’s app is available for both Apple and Android, and contains lots of useful and interesting information- something that might be a plus for weather enthusiasts, but if you’re looking for ‘just the basics’ this app may not suit your needs as well as some others. You can set up custom notifications and receive real-time weather alerts, and the radar scans are a bit more detailed than those on the Google weather app. One nice feature of this app is that you can set up alerts for NWS Special Weather Statements- something that most weather apps don’t push notifications for. While for most of us the standard Watches and Warnings will be sufficient, Special Weather Statements are helpful in that they alert you to less ‘high-impact’ weather issues, such as quick freezes, localized fog, and others.
The Weather Underground app is free, but you can get a premium subscription which will remove ads. You can customize weather alerts and see detailed radar imagery. Weather Underground touts their ‘hyperlocal’ weather, using their private network of more than 250,000 personal weather stations nationwide and a proprietary forecast model to provide extremely detailed forecasts. It is available for both Apple and Android.
Storm Radar (The Weather Channel)
Storm Radar is The Weather Channel’s app, available for free. For the paid version, you can get no adds, lightning data, and additional radar imagery besides the standard reflectivity. The app (even the free version) allows you to receive real-time notifications, display Local Storm Reports (severe weather reports), storm tracks, and look at more detailed parameters for severe storms. Again, this one may be more appropriate for folks who are looking for a more detailed look than ‘just the forecast’.
Dark sky is a paid app, available only for iPhone (sorry, Android users). This one allows you to look at extremely detailed graphics and animations, customize severe weather alerts, and, unlike many others, explore past weather.
The last app which we will highlight in our survey today is WeatherBug. It is free, but does offer a $19.99 ‘Elite’ version, which has no ads, full radar animation capability, and enhanced map layers. The free version will get you basic radar, lightning alerts, and local weather-cams for a live view of what is happening. It is available to both Apple and Android users.
I hope this quick look at ways to receive weather information has been helpful for you! Take some time, explore all of the different options, and choose the top two or three which work best for your particular needs.