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Storm warning devices can save lives

Published February 6, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - For many people in Lake and Volusia counties, the warning did little good.

They were asleep when the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning eight to 15 minutes before the first twister touched down. There was nothing to rattle those people awake and prompt them to take cover.

Local officials are trying to spread the word about a device they say can save lives in such a scenario: the weather radio.

The radios broadcast local reports from the National Weather Service and sound alarms for dangerous weather.

"It's something that every home should have," said Pinellas emergency management spokesman Tom Iovino.

Iovino and others are touting weather radios as the most reliable and cost-effective devices for warning people of severe weather conditions.

Several Florida counties have sirens like the ones in Midwestern states that can alert people about approaching tornadoes. But officials say tornado sirens are difficult to hear when people live in insulated homes.

Weather radios, which cost about $15 to $100, work like a fire alarm. Daniel Noah, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Ruskin, said the radios alert people when bad weather is headed their way.

The radios pick up the warnings and emit a loud, beeping noise. When someone wakes up to turn off the alarm, the radio displays the warning. In the event of a tornado, a computer-generated voice lets the person know the location and the speed.

The radios also sound off for other emergencies such as Amber Alerts, evacuation notices, hazardous materials spills, food contamination warnings and certain marine warnings, including tsunamis. Depending on the model, the radios can be programmed so that they only go off for weather warnings for one county.

Stores across west-central Florida have reported brisk sales.

Last year, Midland Radio Corp., one of the largest manufacturers of weather radios, and St. Petersburg officials discussed distributing free weather radios to every household in the city.

Midland spokesman Bruce Thomas said they were unable to work out who would distribute and pay for the radios.

Thomas, who also worked as a meteorologist, said the recent tornadoes underscore the importance of owning a weather radio.

"It would have been the only way for those people to have woken up," he said. "In those 15 minutes, you can at least gather the family, get in your bathroom and cover up."

Fast fact

Weather radios

There are two types of weather radios: Radios that sound an alarm whenever a warning is issued locally, and radios that simply allow users to listen to weather band transmissions.

Where to get them: Midland sells the radios from $20 to $90 on its Web site. The radios are also available at Wal-Mart, Target and soon Publix supermarkets.

[Last modified February 6, 2007, 06:01:44]

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