On Thursday afternoon, the National Weather Service briefly lost the ability to communicate severe weather warnings and radar data throughout its nationwide system.
The outage lasted approximately 32 minutes. A screencap of the NWSchat log—an internal record of official communications—from the office in Albany, N.Y., clearly captured the implications:
Here's what a comms outage looks like during a tornado event... pic.twitter.com/MowE5EdSBYRyan Hanrahan (@ryanhanrahan) May 22, 2014
Yes, technically, that tornado warning expired before it was issued. Lucky there were no actual tornadoes during that time … oh wait:
During the outage, radar data wasn’t updated, and warnings weren’t sent out.
ATTENTION: there has been a comms failure on a National-level w/n the NWS. While radar data is flowing, our products are not.— NWS Boston (@NWSBoston) May 22, 2014
Nationwide problem. RT @EricHolthaus: are products not flowing only locally or is the problem nationwide?— NWS Boston (@NWSBoston) May 22, 2014
The outage comes as the latest in a series of recent technical glitches to affect the NWS. Previous technicalities weren’t quite as serious, such as an unbelievably large flood warning in mid-April (coincidentally, the day before the movie Noah was released), and a website crash in early April (though warning products continued to be issued as normal through more traditional channels).
Today’s glitch affected the entire country in a more fundamental way: There just wasn’t any data getting through.
Immediately, reports came in from across the country, verifying the glitch:
Major NWS data outage. Solution is being worked on ASAP: http://t.co/9NNthwUXUz— Rob Hart (@rqhart) May 22, 2014
Yes, as far as we can tell RT @SoMDWx: Is the Sterling site having radar data issues? Not seeing any updates.....— Capital Weather Gang (@capitalweather) May 22, 2014
During the outage, the National Weather Service office in Philadelphia took to issuing warnings via Facebook and Twitter instead:
@NWS_MountHolly posted on Facebook page that products are NOT being posted due to technical problem. Will issue warnings via social media.— Gary Szatkowski (@GarySzatkowski) May 22, 2014
By 4:38 p.m. Eastern, the problem appeared to be solved:
Radar data on NWS web pages has now started to update.— Gary Szatkowski (@GarySzatkowski) May 22, 2014
Really embarrassing that the NWS doesn't have redundancies/backup systems to mitigate a comms outage.— Ryan Hanrahan (@ryanhanrahan) May 22, 2014
Wonder how many thousands (millions?) of people were under SVR/TOR warnings during this NWS outage...— Joe Moore (@wxjoe) May 22, 2014
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.
Severe weather, including possibly tornadoes, is expected to continue this evening throughout much of the East Coast.