Friday, May 23, 2014

More on the National Weather Service's Storm Warning Fiasco


As many know, the NWS had a major disruption to its data flow during yesterday's tornado warnings from Denver to Dover. Andrew Freedman reports:  
The memo says the data disruption was triggered by an upgrade to the weather data dissemination system itself, specifically a modification to a network firewall. The firewall was supposed to continue to allow data to pass through it, but "within minutes, engineers noticed that data were not traversing the firewall." The memo claims all warnings did reach the public despite the loss of the main automated delivery system, which is a questionable claim considering that many storm chasers, television meteorologists, online news sites and others in the weather community reported disruptions in crucial radar data and severe weather warnings on Thursday.
The outage, which the NWS now says lasted from 3:49 to 4:25 p.m. ET on Thursday (although the system was not declared fully operational until 4:37 p.m. ET), occurred as severe thunderstorms erupted from the Denver metro area eastward to the Mid-Atlantic. A tornado warning was issued at one point for downtown Denver, and one strong tornado touched down near Albany, New York. Another weaker twister struck in Delaware around the time of the outage.
All of the clients of AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions received 100% of their warnings, radar and other products -- we were completely unaffected. 

Andrew goes on to report:
Curiously, the memo states that the NWS is still investigating only two things regarding this outage. The first is "the root cause of the firewall disruption," but the second is "instances of any external nwschat users who violated agreed-to Terms of Use." The nwschat system is used as an instant messaging system for different NWS offices to share breaking information on severe weather. Media outlets can subscribe to it as well as long as they agree to the terms-of-use; those terms forbid users from "releasing content to a broader audience that might be misinterpreted or cause confusion. This includes streaming of chats via the web or web-like services."
In other words, the agency is going after anyone who is outside the agency who may have released information about the outage that they learned via the NWS chat system. 
I guess we taxpayers are not entitled to learn why NWS systems have failed -- twice -- during tornado situations the last 30 days. It appears that the NWS has learned nothing since the self-inflicted battering of its reputation during the Hurricane Sandy assessment. Those actions brought widespread derision to the agency. Here is one of the many examples.
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