If you think internet weather has you covered, let me offer some food for thought.
If you’re like millions of Americans, you get your weather information from an ever-increasing number of internet sources. That’s great for looking at a forecast or checking local temperatures but not as useful for sudden changes or dangerous occurrences, such as tornadoes, hurricanes severe thunderstorms, hail, high surf or flash floods. When those occur, you want something that will alert you immediately and provide critical information that will help get you to safety without delay. Cobra Electronics CWR200 Emergency + Weather Alert Radio was designed to do just that.
Those who live in the tornado alley certainly understand the benefits of a weather radio, but the entire nation can have conditions that certainly make a quality weather alert radio a must have. I’m a little fanatical about preparedness. While in the Army my job required the use of explosives, so safety and redundancy was part of my everyday life. We planned and prepared for every eventuality. Today, keeping me and my family safe is priority one. As a photographer, I am often travelling, mostly by car, chasing all manner of things to photograph including the weather. I’m often without cell service and especially mobile internet access. It’s then when I turn to my mobile weather alert radio.
Specific Area Message Encoding – S.A.M.E.
One of the great improvements to weather radio has been the alert functions. Many weather radios have the 7 channels attributed to the National Weather Service, which broadcasts current weather and forecasts over a large region near the transmitter. Something I was unaware of until recently is the S.A.M.E. alert message system. S.A.M.E. stands for Specific Area Message Encoding. By programming an area specific code into S.A.M.E. enabled weather radios, such as the CWR200, you can receive alert messages specific to your area. These aren’t just weather alerts. The NOAA and the FCC worked together to form an “all hazards” alert system. This includes an audible tone, 3 level color-coded lights on the radio itself and scrolling text messages on the radio display. Even when the volume is turned down to monitor, S.A.M.E. alerts automatically turn the volume to full so you don’t miss an important alert. Amber alerts have also been included into the S.A.M.E. messages to alert drivers to be on the lookout for vehicles that may contain abducted children.
The Cobra CWR200 Emergency + Weather Alert Radio is impressive. The features are extensive. Although not advertised as such, the radio is certainly appears to be weather resistant. All ports have rubber covers over the openings, which should protect it from light exposure to moisture or rain. The package includes a drop-in charger with AC adapter along with rechargeable batteries, pocket clip, and lanyard. The radio has S.A.M.E. alert capability, LED flashlight and a USB smartphone charger that allows you to charge your cell phone from the radio in an emergency. At such a modest price, my expectations weren’t very high, but the reviews of this product were good so I decided to give it a try. I purchased mine from Amazon for $19.72 plus shipping.
Out of the box, I was most impressed. The fit, finish and build quality were excellent. The orange portions of the radio were rubberized and provide a dependable, slip-free grip. The radio itself feels solidly built. The pocket clip and battery door have positive locks, stay secured but are easy to remove when needed. The handheld unit with 3 included 800 mAh Ni-MH batteries weighs in at 6.2 ounces (176 grams). It’s light enough not to be burdensome, but not so light as to escape notice if dropped. However, the secure belt clip makes that scenario unlikely.
Programming the unit is straightforward, but requires a visit to the NOAA website to obtain the S.A.M.E. code for your area. See the link below for more information on the S.A.M.E. system and for a state by state list of S.A.M.E. alert codes.
Below is an audio sample of an actual flash flood alert that occurred for Southern California on July 30, 2015 at 4:10 PM. This clip was recorded with a digital recorder connected to the earphone jack, but the sound from the speaker is equally excellent. Signal quality varies with the distance from the transmitter, but I found this exceeded the signal reception of other weather radios I compared this to.
(NOAA/NWS) Flash Flood Alert – Recorded from Cobra CWR200 during actual live alert in progress.
The earphone jack is 2.5mm, not the more common 3.5mm jack found on most of our MP3 players and smartphones. I purchased a 2.5mm male to 3.5mm female adapter from Ebay for less than $3. Now I can use the earbuds that came with my phone to listen, although the output is mono, not stereo, so don’t expect to hear the audio in more than one ear.
For those of you who may not want to receive all alert messages, the CWR200 has a ‘Tornado Mode’. When turned on, this allows lesser alerts to be logged, but no audible signal sounded, which might wake you during the night. The audible alerts will be suppressed, except for extreme alerts, such as Tornados.
Having used this unit for nearly a week now, I can report that like it very much. The menus are intuitive. The rubberized buttons are soft and provide a positive feel. The keypad is responsive. The display is clear and high contrast. An audible tone is heard with each button push. This tone might be objectionably loud to some. You can turn off the tone, but cannot reduce volume. I would have preferred a volume for the tones. I like that they’re there for they provide some indication that your input was accepted, but I found it too loud for most circumstances. Now it’s in the off position. A lower output tone might be a nice option for future models. The USB smartphone charger had no trouble charging my Samsung Galaxy S4. I would not regularly use this function, as it will deplete your radio’s onboard batteries, but it’s a great feature in an emergency.
I must admit there are two issues that detract from what would otherwise be a perfect review. Each time the batteries are removed, the time must be reset. This isn’t a huge issue, because under most circumstances the batteries will always be charged in the unit, which leads me to my other complaint. According to the instructions, the battery charge indicator in the base of the drop-in charger should turn off once the batteries are fully charged. This does not seem to be the case. Even after a full day on the charger starting with fully-charged batteries, the light is still illuminated and the flashing battery icon on the radio’s display continues to flash suggesting the batteries are still being charged. I made a sizeable investment in rechargeable batteries some time ago. Along with that purchase came a high quality charger than peaks each individual battery rather than simply charging to the combined voltage of all the batteries run in series. This ensures one battery is not overcharged while others are undercharged. This is often the case with in-device charging. Given this limitation, I will most likely use my own charger to recharge these batteries and occasionally interchange them with other higher capacity AA Ni-MH batteries I already own. It is during these battery changes that will need to reset the time, but again, a relatively minor but notable shortcoming. I’ve emailed Cobra to ask about the charge light, but I hadn’t had a response as of the time of this review’s posting. I will provide an update once I’ve been contacted by Cobra.
Overall, I’ve enjoyed the Cobra Emergency + Weather Alert Radio and consider it a good addition to my emergency gear. I think it will provide many years of service, but admittedly, if I didn’t already own a quality battery charger I might be put off by the desktop drop-in charger’s performance. I will continue to test the system and provide an update once Cobra contacts me.
7 National Weather Service Radio Channels
3 Level Alert LED Indicator
Desktop Charger & Rechargeable Batteries
USB Smartphone Charger
Alarm Clock with Snooze
Weight with batteries: 6.2 ounces (176 grams)