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October 7, 2006  |  

Weather Gadgets

I wouldn't call myself a weather junkie, but then again I do like to keep up on the current conditions. To that end there are a few things I have around the house here that keep me informed about current weather conditions.

If you live in an area with occasional severe weather as I do, then a weather radio provides some real peace of mind. Actually, these radios warn about more than the weather and also alert for national emergencies, terror alerts, tornadoes, thunderstorms, hurricanes, chemical spills, fires, natural and man-made disasters and even volcano warnings (no kidding). You'll want one with Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) technology. SAME lets you program the receiver to alert you only for messages about where you live. Often this is by county but in more populated areas, this can be by city, city region or neighborhood. And even better choice is a Dual EAS/NWR receiver. In addition to the NOAA Weather Radio (NWR), the receiver monitors Emergency Alert System which includes messages for AMBER Alerts and 911 Call Outages.

I use the First Alert radio pictured above. It has several features I consider mandatory. It allows me to turn the alarm off for specific alerts. For instance, I'm not interested in hearing alarms for high pollen counts. However, it sill displays these alerts by illuminating an amber or red LED which are easily visible from across the room. It has two levels of sirens, loud and really loud. And it has a battery backup mode for when the power goes out.

The First Alert unit ships with all the alerts in siren mode so you'll have to spend some time programming the 50 some alerts this receiver responds to. The programming is tedious at best but at least it's only once.

Of all the radio's I surveyed, I liked the First Alert the best but it certainly could stand improvement. In addition to the difficult programming I mentioned, the scrolling LCD screen simply sucks. But then again, all the radios I surveyed had the same issue. My watch is more readable. The screens need to be much bigger and higher quality. Tuning the radio to a nearby station also requires a trip to the NOAA weather radio page to find the frequency of the radio station closest to your area. But for peace of mind and security, it's minor and only one-time inconvenience.

For the desktop, I like to use two Yahoo! Desktop Widgets.  These stylish and small applications run on your desktop and continuously monitor the weather through your Internet connection. The standard weather widget is a like many other desktop weather applications displaying current conditions and forecasts. I also like the way it looks. The Weather Warning widget alerts you to NOAA weather alerts when they are posted. It's like a weather radio for your desktop. On more than one occasion at work I've had it alert me to conditions I was unaware of and allowed me to call my family at home to warn them.

One last cool and useful site is the Weather Underground's Personal Weather Stations Google Map. It's a collection of personal weather station information for a given area displayed on a Google Map. It gives you up to the minute, detailed weather information at a level of granularity (depending on where you live) not obtainable from the national weather service.

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