CENTRAL TEXAS (KXAN) — When it comes to severe weather, many people are reliant on their phones for news alerts, weather apps and local information disseminated by city, county and other municipal leaders. But what happens if cell towers go dark and residents don’t have that same access?
That’s a central concern agencies like the National Weather Service have when it comes to cell phone dependency during tornadoes, hurricanes or related disasters, said Paul Yura, NWS’ weather coordination meteorologist for the Austin-San Antonio region. That’s where weather radios can be a critical item that helps prevent a natural disaster from turning into a tragedy, Yura said.
KXAN spoke with Yura following the March 21 tornadoes that ripped across Central Texas. During that conversation, he stressed the value that too much information is better than little updates during extreme weather events.
“It’s redundancy, plain and simple. There are a lot of warnings that will come across a [National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration] weather radio that necessarily won’t come across your cell phone automatically,” he said, adding: “For someone that wants to be weather aware, it’s 24/7 access to our forecasts and other things that we kind of put on the weather radio.”
NOAA weather radios act as a comprehensive one-stop shop for all weather forecast and emergency-related incidents, including warnings, watches, tornadoes and earthquakes, among others. Typically, weather radios capture alerts within a 40-mile radius, prepping users on weather events happening both in their backyards and in the surrounding areas. Information on neighboring regions is critical, Yura said, as residents can then prepare for potential fronts moving through their community.
While some might see weather radios as a more antiquated system compared to phones, Yura said that level of redundancy is especially critical in regions with low cell service, during cell tower outages or if an extended weather incident drains the juice of a person’s phone battery.
Traditionally, Texas sees its weather season peak in March, April and May, with Tuesday’s tornado the second recorded in three weeks. That storm, which primarily damaged areas like Round Rock, Granger and Elgin, damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes and cost millions in estimated repairs.
For Yura, he said these radios are centered around one mission: Educating people and prepping them with the knowledge and resources they need to weather the storm.
Online, weather radios traditionally range in costs from approximately $30 on the low end, topping out around $100. Weather radios are available courtesy department stores like Lowes, Best Buy and Walmart, as well as online shopping destinations like Amazon.
It’s a tool Yura said people should consider adding to their emergency preparedness plan — a plan, he stressed, every person should have solidifed.
“You got to have a plan. You have to know within seconds what to do,” he said. “It’s not the time to start Googling, ‘how do I stay safe in a tornado?’ You need to already know these kinds of things.”