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You may have heard that St. Louis got socked by several big storms this summer. One knocked out power to more than a half-million people, including our house for nearly four days. That particular storm caught many folks by surprise, popping up seemingly out of nowhere, as they sometimes do on hot, humid days. But we were alerted it was coming.

For the holidays last year, we had bought weather-alert radios for ourselves and relatives living in the Midwest. We were spooked last year by a nearby tornado--we didn't know bad weather was threatening until we luckily heard the sirens, which we sometimes don't hear from inside our house.

The radios we bought do nothing but weather. There are a number of models that sell for $75 or less; online, we found a basic one made by Oregon Scientific. It's a bit of a pain to set up but has worked flawlessly as advertised.

The radio is silent until an alert is issued by the National Weather Service (or other users of the Emergency Alert System, including the Department of Homeland Security). Then it pops awake with the familiar, shrill warning signal. A voice follows with details, including where the storm is headed.

I know that some think the government sends out too many alerts, whether about health, terrorism, or weather. But storms are one thing I want to know about. That's partly because I love to watch the approach of an angry midwestern squall--even one that knocks out my power.