Section 1—The Report

How You Probably Get Your Weather Warnings

Today, the National Weather Service (NWS) can give you about 12 minutes to get ready for a tornado—more than double the 5 minutes you had 10 years ago.

You're probably used to getting warnings about severe weather over the radio or on TV. Just about all areas of the United States are covered by regular radio and television signals. Nearly all radio and television broadcasters get emergency warnings from the National Weather Service for severe weather and other hazards.

NOAA Weather Radios

You can also get warnings about severe weather 24 hours a day directly from the National Weather Service over a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio.

For less than the cost of a new pair of shoes, you can have your own weather radio. If you're sleeping, it can wake you up to give you specific warnings for your location. It will give you instant access to the same weather reports and emergency information that meteorologists and emergency personnel use—information that might save your property and, more importantly, your life.

Can Just a Few Minutes of Warning Save Lives? You Bet!

House sitting on side after tornado strikes.In July 1997, more than 3,000 people had turned out in Lancaster, Ohio, for an outdoor concert. When the National Weather Service issued a severe 6 Saving Lives With an All-Hazard Warning Network thunderstorm warning for the area, it automatically came over the 50 public works walkie-talkies in the field. Organizers had time to cancel the event and evacuate the field. The result? No one was hurt except for a few people who were still in the parking lot when lightening struck a car.

Survivors pick through wreckage near a house knocked off its foundation by 1900 hurricane in Galveston. Photo courtesy of the Rosenburg Library, Galveston, Texas.

 On April 4,1997, at 4:52 p.m., the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning that included the small community of Shongaloo, Louisiana. The principal of the local high school was the only person in the school building at the time. He knew about the tornado because his weather radio had sounded an alarm. His wife also had a weather radio at home and called to tell him of the approaching storm. By the time the tornado hit Shongaloo at 5 p.m.—only 8 minutes later—the principal had taken cover and was not injured. Even if the tornado had struck during school hours, eight minutes is still enough lead time to move students to a safe place in the building.

A NOAA Weather RadioOn January 21, 1999, a NOAA Weather Radio alerted the Superintendent of the Beebe, Ark., school district to monitor a strong line of thunderstorms heading toward his campus. When he later halted a regional basketball game and evacuated the 300-400 fans and players from the gymnasium, some fans were upset. But, when a tornado struck and completely destroyed the gymnasium a half-hour later, no lives were lost.

And, on May 3, 1999, when the shift supervisor at Norland Plastics in South Haysville, Kansas, received a tornado warning from the plant's NOAA Weather Radio, he didn't want to make the staff nervous. So, he conducted a mock tornado drill and sent all 85 workers to the basement. The tornado destroyed most of the plant, but didn't injure any employee.

NOAA Weather Radios come in many difference styles. Most have battery backup and feature a warning alarm. Most marine radios and scanners and many CB radios and AM/FM radios offer the feature. Newer models are self-activating and automatically sound an alarm when a warning is issued for your county. They can be tuned to one of seven different frequencies. The NOAA Weather Radio Network broadcasts NWS forecasts and warnings 24 hours a day.

There is a list of companies that manufacture NOAA Weather Radios in the appendix. When choosing which weather radio to buy, you should consider whether more expensive features—such as a radio that turns itself on for warning in the middle of the night—are important to you.

Are You Covered?

You may not be. You can't hear NOAA Weather Radio unless your area is covered by a transmitter and you have a receiver.

The maps and charts in this report are computer predictions suggesting that, currently under ideal conditions, about 90 percent of the population—a little over 245 million people—can receive signals from the more than 900 NOAA Weather Radio transmitters across the country. Local conditions—antenna location, direction of signal, buildings, old cables, terrain, icing, and nearby radio towers—can reduce the actual population coverage to about 80 to 85 percent—or about 223 million people.

Computer predictions show that less than 75 percent of the people who live in these 8 states are covered by NOAA Weather Radio signals: Hawaii; Idaho; Iowa; Montana; Nevada; South Dakota; Vermont; and Wyoming. Actual coverage may be as low as 65 percent.

The people who live in these 28 states have between 75 and 95 percent coverage, according to the computer projections: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is also in this category. Actual coverage may be lower by about 10 percent.

Percentage of People Covered by NOAA Weather Radio Signals

Map shows all but eight states have 90% of the population covered by NOAA Weather Radio.  As of 1995, those states were Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, south Dakota, Iowa,  Vermont and Hawaii. Coverage is higher now.

90 Percent of the Population is Covered by NOAA Weather Radio signals in 1995.
See the NOAA Weather Radio Site for current numbers.


States where computer-predicted coverage is already 95 percent include: Alabama, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and South Carolina. Actual coverage may be lower by about 10 percent.

Richelieu Apartments stand in majestic ushape around gardens before storm surge damage, Hurricane Camille (Category 5), Mississippi, 1969.       Richelieu Apartments flattened after storm surge damage

Richelieu Apartments, before and after storm surge damage, Hurricane Camille (Category 5), Mississippi, 1969.


You can check NOAA Weather Radio website to see if you are covered by a NOAA Weather Radio signal. The site also includes the most recent list of companies that make receivers. The National Weather Service does not endorse any particular make or model of NOAA Weather Radio receiver.

All-Hazards/Weather Emergency Alert Monitors have been commercially available since the early 1970's. An estimated 8 million units have been sold. That means each radio would have to reach about 30 people—hardly enough to give adequate warnings.

At a minimum, communities need receivers in schools, day care centers, hospitals, places of worship, restaurants, grocery stores, recreation centers, bus and train stations, office buildings, sports stadiums, theaters, retail stores, and airports. A number of partnerships have been formed to get NOAA Weather Radios into schools and other public areas.

How is NOAA Weather Radio Different From the Emergency Alert System?

Flood waters rise to meet store signs on small town buildingsThe Emergency Alert System (EAS) was designed as a joint government-industry message system. It permits the President to speak to the entire Nation in times of national emergency. The EAS replaced the Emergency Broadcast System in 1994.

NOAA Weather Radio is an integral part of the EAS system. Warnings issued via NOAA Weather Radio can be automatically rebroadcast by radio and TV stations, but their participation is voluntary. However, this capability of NOAA Weather Radio makes it invaluable in getting hazard warnings out. Not only is there a direct link to the public, but there is a direct link to any technology that can receive the NOAA Weather Radio signal.

Commercial broadcasters and cable stations receive hazard warnings from many sources, including NOAA Weather Radio. Commercial broadcasters and cable stations can chose to rebroadcast any or all warnings they receive with their EAS compatible equipment.

All broadcast stations must have Emergency Alert System (EAS) equipment. Beginning December 31, 1998, the FCC began requiring the 1,219 cable systems with 10,000 or more subscribers to have EAS equipment. Broadcasters and cable operators monitor National Weather Service alerts directly on their EAS equipment. They aren't required to transmit State and local warnings, but many do—they send warnings either as emergency announcements or as messages after the EAS digital signal.

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