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Keeping up with severe weather is easier than ever. Here are the best ways to get warnings.

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Lightning flashes across the sky as storms roll over Richmond on Wednesday June 14, 2017.

Thanks to today’s technology, severe weather usually doesn’t come without warning.

But if you aren’t paying attention or aren’t able to receive alerts, you can still be caught off guard.

Thunder doesn’t just roll in when you’re sitting at home watching the news or scrolling through your phone at the office.

It can sneak up during a date night. Baseball practice. The concert. Family reunion. Vacation at the beach. Standing in the checkout line. Waiting for the dentist.

On days when severe storms are expected — especially during overnight hours when you may be asleep — the best defense is a good offense.

Make sure you have a way to receive alerts issued by the National Weather Service.

Preferably, more than one way.

Be extra vigilant if you plan to be traveling, camping or otherwise out of the loop on a day with severe weather in the forecast.

NOAA Weather Radio

Even in the age of smartphones, there’s something to be said for these special, inexpensive radios that instantly receive warnings from the National Weather Service.

Think of it like having a smoke detector for severe weather. Every business and public building should have one, and it’s a great idea for a home too.

A weather radio will still receive alerts even if the power is out or the mobile network is down. Newer models let you narrow it down to a particular city or county, so you don’t get bothered by distant alerts.

A portable model is great for boating, camping, hiking or the RV. Just remember to check the batteries.

Wireless Emergency Alerts for phones

New mobile devices automatically receive Wireless Emergency Alerts for urgent nearby situations such as tornado warnings, flash floods, Amber Alerts and other civil emergencies.

If you heard the simultaneous chorus of screeching phones in your workplace during the tornado warnings last September, you’re already familiar with how it works. It’s free and there’s no need to sign up (though you can opt out).

Here’s why you shouldn’t turn them off, though: All of that beeping may seem like overkill at the office or in a store, but imagine that tornadoes are racing in to your county at 4 a.m. What else would wake you up?

Or imagine that you’re driving through an unfamiliar place and happen to enter an area under a flood or tornado warning. Unlike a weather radio, this system is designed to alert you as you move around.

WEA won’t relay severe thunderstorm warnings, but weather apps can keep you in the loop about the full range of weather hazards.

There are more apps in existence than we can possibly mention or review, but picking one from a trusted local media outlet is a good place to start.

See how it works and adjust your settings before there’s a big severe weather day.

Reminders: Avoid distracted driving. During a tornado, a car is one of the absolute worst places to be. Parking under a bridge or overpass is dangerous for you, and especially for the other motorists or first responders who get blocked.

Local alerts

Many cities and counties offer a free service for their residents that can send out emergency notifications via email, text message or a phone call to landlines. Usually, these will be based on a home address.

In addition to severe weather, these services can alert you to things such as evacuations and missing persons. Look at your local government’s official website or check with the emergency manager’s office to find out more.

City of Richmond: CodeRED

Chesterfield County: Chesterfield Alert

Henrico County: Henrico Alert

Hanover County: Hanover Alert

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Check for John Boyer’s videos and forecast updates. Contact him at


John Boyer is the first staff meteorologist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He joined the RTD newsroom in November 2016. Boyer earned his degree in meteorology from North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

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John Boyer

John Boyer, the RTD's staff meteorologist

John Boyer is the first staff meteorologist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He joined the RTD newsroom in November 2016 after covering severe weather on television in Tulsa, Okla.

As a native of the Roanoke area, the region’s heavy snowstorms started his fascination with Virginia’s changing weather.

Boyer earned his degree in meteorology from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He is a member of the American Meteorological Society and earned their Certified Broadcast Meteorologist seal in 2012.

Look for his stories in the RTD and on, along with videos and forecast updates for major weather events in our area.

Email him your story ideas and weather tips.

Sunday Weatherline

Season-to-date freezes highest since 1996

So far this fall, seven days had a low at or below 32 degrees in Richmond (as of Saturday). That’s the highest season-to-date freeze count since 1996, but it’s nowhere near the record. By this point in the fall of 1976, 21 days had already dipped to freezing.

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