Weather Updates

Eton’s FRX3 will get you through weather crisis

Updated: March 13, 2013 4:07PM

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

Oh, what a crock! Even if I happened to have bought lemons before a big storm knocked out the power to my house, I wouldn’t dare open the fridge to get them. I’m hoping the electricity comes back on before I all of my vegetables and deli meats and dairy items spoil and until it does, I need to preserve the coldness.

“But surely the blizzard that hit New England recently is an exception?” you ask. “Why didn’t you just move the contents of your fridge into the garage or something?”

Indeed I did. And I was also able to move the contents of the freezer to the back porch, where the 25-degree outdoor temps kept everything frozen solid.

But the thermometer dipped to 8 degrees overnight and Nature decided to move on from my Lean Cuisines and leftover lasagna and attempted to freeze me and my vital organs. My house has electric heat, you see. As I raised the lid of a necessary domestic plumbing fixture the next morning and broke up a surface layer of ice to prepare it for imminent use, a cold glass of lemonade was the very last thing on my mind, you know?

All right. I’m done complaining. At least I’m getting another column out of my latest power outage.

I’ve been testing and accumulating various kinds of storm preparedness-related tech items ever since 2011’s Hurricane Irene made that into an annual theme. After last fall’s storm and subsequent blackout, I acquired an interesting gadget from Eton Corp: the FRX3 multifunction radio. It’s $60 from Eton.

After a minute of careful thought, I’ve realized that it’s actually the only radio receiver in my house. The FRX3 made me realize how well-suited this particular medium is for a weather emergency.

I had lost power, true, but needless to say, I wasn’t hurting for digital communications capability during my two days without power. I had enough battery charge on my phone, my LTE iPad, and my battery extender to run them all weekend if I needed to.

But the Internet isn’t the best resource when your area is under up to thirty inches of snow. It’s likely that your local radio stations will remain on far longer than your local cell towers during an extended emergency.

Further, while the National Weather Service’s website kept me informed about weather during the blizzard and subsequent cleanup, even local news sites offered me very little practical information about conditions beyond what I could see at end of my street. Is it safe enough out there for me to head out in search of an open restaurant and a hot meal? The Internet just wasn’t much help.

The situation demonstrated to me that it takes much, much less time to survey all of the information available on the AM, FM and Weather bands than it does to canvass the entire Internet. It took me all of five minutes to find a radio station, broadcasting nonstop localized storm and street information from just twenty miles away.

Which isn’t to say that my iPad was useless. Without the Hulu Plus app I might have fallen behind on “The Colbert Report.” But the radio provided me with regular reassurances that our solemn New England society had not yet descended into Ape Law, and that the shotgun and the bucket of nails I’d prepared before the storm could stay in the basement.

“Yay, radio!” I’m saying.

But why am I recommending the $60 Eton radio, instead of a cheap $10 jobbie from the drugstore?

Because the Eton is designed for emergency use. The fact that it has weather bands in addition to AM and FM, plus an LED flashlight and a glow-in-the-dark panel that helps you find it in pitch-darkness is just part of the design.

The FRX3 is adaptable to the unpredictable demands of a weather emergency. It’ll run on three AAA batteries. If you forgot to buy batteries, or if you’ve been without power for several days and you’ve run out, you can power it from its internal NiMH battery pack.

And how do you charge it up? Any way you can. Plug it into an AC outlet. Plug it into the USB port of your computer. Leave it outside with its solar cell pointing directly at the sun for 10 hours.

Or, you can turn its hand crank. The radio will run for three or four hours when the battery is fully charged. Ninety seconds of brisk, two-revs-per-second cranking will run the radio for 10 or 15 minutes.

The FRX3 can also charge your phone through a standard PC-style USB port. I suppose I shouldn’t say “recharge.” Its internal battery is 600 mAh … teensy by smartphone standards. But if you drain a fully charged FRX3 into your iPhone, you’ll have enough juice for a couple of hours of talk time. A few minutes of hand-cranking will revive a dead phone to the point where you can at least send off a few texts.

(While you’re cranking, you can pretend you’re playing the part of Walter O’Reilly on an episode of “M*A*S*H.” Oh, what laughs I had when I picked up my phone afterwards and said “Hey, Sparky? This is Radar! Patch me through to Seoul, will you?”)

(It’s possible that this was an indicator of cabin fever. In any event, turning the crank was a refreshing break from nervously eyeing my furniture and deciding which items I’d burn for heat and in what order.)

In a way, the recent blizzard was the perfect test for the FRX3. Eton sent it to me last fall, shortly after I published my previous “digital emergency prep” column. I put it on my office’s “write about this someday” shelf after playing with it for a couple of hours. Despite the fact that I hadn’t charged it up or bought batteries for it during my storm prep, the FRX3 was a big help during the two days I was stuck in the house without electricity.

And so I’m adding it to my Weather Emergency Toolbox. As a source of vital local news during a weather emergency, the FRX3 succeeds where the Internet often fails.

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