Thursday, August 8, 2019

The Mess That Is the FCC's WEA Storm Warnings

As a person who spent 47-years working to create improved
life-saving storm warnings, incidents like this morning's 
are inexcusable. 

I had dental surgery today and as we were headed home my iPhone began screaming as the "Emergency Alert" appeared. The Emergency Alert is part of the FCC's WEA system.
Only one problem: there was no rain falling in the area and there was obviously no flooding threat. These FCC relays of National Weather Service warnings are allegedly site-specific (note the "this area" wording). There was obviously a big problem because there was zero threat of flooding in my location. 

I was confident the National Weather Service wouldn't have issued a frivolous flash flood warning and that the problem was elsewhere. So, I decided to investigate.

The first clue was the AccuWeather was not displaying the flash flood warning, just an earlier special weather statement for Wichita (under "notification center") on my screen. AccuWeather displays NWS warnings as fast or faster than the WEA, so the fact there was no flash flood warning for my location indicated the error was with WEA.

AccuWeather uses the National Weather Service's "polygon" warnings which are more specific and have fewer false alarms than the old county warnings. The false WEA flash flood warning was also not being displayed on AccuWeather's app.
No flash flood warning displayed
So, where was the flash flood warning? It was for Butler County, Kansas. I was in Sedgwick County and the closest I got to the west edge of the warning was 4 miles.
This was yet another false alarm generated by the Federal Communications Commission's WEA. The WEA system has been plagued with problems from the day it was rolled out.
WEA was and is a government 'solution' in search of a problem. Private sector companies like AccuWeather and WeatherCall provide a far superior storm warning product (site-specific relay of NWS warnings with minimal false alarms) than the WEA system.

The issue is that every time phones scream for no reason, the credibility of the vital warning system takes a hit.
Either the FCC needs to fix this system 
or it needs to go away. 

2 comments:

  1. While improvements are being made to correct this broad-brush use of flash flood warnings, it still doesn't address 2 critical issues: 1. The two largest carriers have inconsistent criteria for lighting up a tower with a warning. One says the tower must be inside the polygon, the other is the tower's footprint has been intersected by a polygon. #2. The current system cannot restrict the warning from being disseminated FAR outside the intended polygon which, knowing your proximity to the Butler County line likely explains what happened.

    The social media-verse has all kinds of optimistic chatter about how in Feb, WEA will be "fixed" and only light up phones within 1/10th of a mile of a polygon. That's the world of "hopefully", maybe, or soon". In the meantime, the public has to live in the world of "IS" between now and the WEA fix date and it's ridiculously confusing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Correction on the date: should have been mid November, 2019.

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