Friday, May 23, 2014

An Outage Outrage: National Weather Service Warning System Fails Amid East Coast Tornadoes

For about a half hour late Thursday afternoon, as tornadic supercells, vicious hailstorms and terrible winds threatened millions of people along the East Coast, the National Weather Service warning system failed.  
A semi is blown over after a possible tornado
 Thursday along Interstate 88 northwest of Albany, N.Y. 

That meant few people could get timely warnings.

Also radar images from the National Weather Service were down, so people were stymied at tracking severe storms and supercells roaming the Northeast.

Capital Weather Gang says the outage lasted from 4:06 to 4:37 p.m. Thursday, during the height of the severe weather.

Operations were also affected around Denver, which was also under a tornado warning.

Capital Weather Gang also obtained a National Weather Service email detailing the problem.  "It appears that all NWS warnings did not properly disseminate during the outage, and significant severe weather was occurring during the outage," according to the e-mail.

The problem was apparently caused by an ongoing upgrade to a computer firewall.

This fiasco raised a lot of questions about the lack of redundancy in the National Weather Service's warning system.

It's true private forecasters, such as the Weather Channel, AccuWeather, and WeatherNation can spread warnings, but you really need a truly national, non-business, government agency to issue consistent warnings during dangerous weather.

Plus, most media outlets rely upon the National Weather Service to provide warnings. Most people it seems, tune into radio and TV when dangerous weather threatens, so National Weather Service alerts are crucial.

Why doesn't the National Weather Service have the right resources to do this?  I'm sure a lot of people were caught out in the big hailstorms in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware today because they didn't get warnings.

The scary thing is, a likely tornado, that was causing damage, was heading toward the Albany, New York metro region when the outage happened. The storm weakened before reaching Albany, which is a good thing.

I wonder if anybody got hurt because of this situation. Or worse, will this kind of failure happen again when a big tornado is bearing down on a city? Will people die because of system failures at the National Weather Service?

I can only imagine the intense frustration among the excellent meteorologists at the National Weather Service over this issue.

Meteorologist and Slate writer Eric Holthaus said there have several, less serious computer glitches and failures in the last six weeks.

Holthaus wrote:  "Outages like this can't continue. The National Weather Service should immediately implement redundancy into their computer systems to ensure the people they serve - us- aren't kept in the dark when dangerous weather approaches. Until then, the system in place is an embarrassment to the diligent scientists that work there."

I couldn't agree more, Eric.

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