Saturday, April 16, 2022

Investigative Report: Was the National Weather Service Bamboozled Into Issuing False "Tornado Emergency" Warnings Friday Evening?

Investigative Report
© 2022 Mike Smith Enterprises, LLC

As of Saturday evening, there are numerous accusations the National Weather Service (NWS) was hacked, tricked or trolled into issuing false tornado warnings for northern Arkansas Friday evening. It may have been a deliberate effort to induce false warnings. 
I, and some of the most prominent meteorologists in the United States, believe this is an extremely serious situation as the credibility of the NWS's vital storm warning system is at stake. A formal, independent investigation is needed. In addition, some meteorologists have come to believe that Tornado Emergency and similar products should be retired. 

Normally, because of Easter tomorrow, I would wait until Monday to publish this report. However, because of the issue of debris and damage, it is important to do any investigating as quickly as possible after the storm. 

The Background

Within the National Weather Service's now ultra-complicated tornado and storm warning hierarchy of products, the very highest and most urgent is the "tornado emergency." 
"Tornado Emergency" warning for northern Arkansas Friday
These are supposed to be very rare --  less than 1% of tornado warnings -- issued only when there is "high confidence" that a violent (EF-4 or 5) tornado is going to attack an area. Last night's warning called for literally "complete destruction."
Note the "weather spotters confirmed tornado." That is key and we will return to this point.

Friday evening, the NWS issued a tornado emergency (TE) for northern Arkansas, even though the radar did not display the evidence one would expect to see if a major tornado is present. Without going through a frame-by-frame review of the radar (which I have done), the velocity data just before the TE was issued was simply not what a meteorologist would expect to see if there was a major tornado present.
7:43pm Friday. Little Rock Doppler radar wind velocity data.
Average rotational wind: 54 mph
Yellow and tans are winds away from the radar, greens toward the radar.

For comparison, here is the Doppler wind signature from the Salado, Texas, EF-3 tornado from Tuesday evening (April 12).
Average wind speed is 102 mph, roughly double the observed wind speed in Arkansas. And, this is far from the most impressive major tornado wind signature I have seen.

The other missing evidence is a lowered correlation coefficient (CC) in the dual-polarization data. Lowering CC's are nearly perfect evidence of lofted debris. There was none at any time yesterday evening. 

In spite of the lackluster radar presentation, the Little Rock NWS office (LIT) issued the Tornado Emergency based on spotter reports. This report was one minute before the TE and, evidently, was the inducement for the Tornado Emergency.
It appears this report...and others from yesterday evening...were false.  

With all of the "spotter reports," one would expect to find a trail of damage. But there was so little damage that the TV stations in the area don't even feature storm damage at the top of their home pages (screen captures 5:15pm Saturday).

Amazingly, after three continuous hours of tornado emergencies and tornado warnings, there were no tornadoes!

Evidence of a Hack or Deliberate False Reports

During and after the series of tornado warnings last night, weather Twitter lit up like a Christmas tree with accusations the NWS had been fooled. 
Peter's tweeted review is here

Here's another:
There are many others.

In addition, there were false photos published in the false 'correct' places and the 'correct' times. The photo below was one of them. In reality, it was taken during the December 10 tornado outbreak yet some named "Saul" lightened it (tornado at right center) and labeled it as being from northern Arkansas as the storms were in progress. These likely increased the pressure on the Little Rock office to issue high-end warnings.

Three Related Issues That Jeopardize the NWS's Tornado Warning System
Matthew is right on the money. There are actually three serious issues here:

The Hack
How did this person or these persons "hack" the NWS so effectively, complete with false geocodes? There is the real possibility that this was a crime (wire fraud, for example). Guessing at a motivation? Perhaps to see if they could get an "emergency" warning issued. If so, they succeeded. And, they will have likely caused the people of northern Arkansas to be less likely to take shelter the next time a tornado warning (of any kind) is issued. The result could be unneccessary deaths or injuries. 

As Aaron correctly states, there needs to be an investigation. Unfortunately, there is no organization to do so. If there were false air traffic control instructions issued, the National Transportation Safety Board would immediately spring into action. But, since the United States does not have anything like a National Disaster Review Board, there is no organization with the task and expertise to do so. We desperately need to create and empower a NDRB immediately. 

Why Were These Warnings Issued and Continued?
The radar image below, from the Memphis radar shows no rotation at all yet their tornado warning continued in effect.
Memphis radar with reflectivity data on left and Doppler winds on the right as of 9:36pm
Why didn't the radar operator/warning meteorologist in Little Rock and then Memphis (the storm crossed the Mississippi River into Tennessee) eventually figure out they were being had?

This is likely related to whatever issues(s) are causing NWS tornado warnings to be less accurate

Inadequate training? Inexperienced people? The tornado warning system being made too complex? I don't know why tornado warnings have become less accurate but we need to figure it out and fix it -- fast!

The Tornado and Storm Warning System Is Now Far Too Complex

This is something I have written about on many occasions (see here and here for two examples). All tornadoes are emergencies! We do not need, 
  • Tornado Warning
  • Particularly Dangerous Situation Tornado Warning
  • Tornado Emergency
This complexity causes confusion, is ripe for error (as in last night) and our science does not have the skill to do this consistently well.

Evidently, I am not the only one with this opinion.
Nate is the chief meteorologist for all of the NBC owned and operated television stations and Harold is a senior researcher at the National Severe Storms Laboratory. Unfortunately, I have little confidence anything will be done absent outside pressure on the weather service. 

To summarize the points in this report:
  • This and other instances of hacking and attempted hacks of the National Weather Service needs to be fully investigated as soon as possible. The NWS should not investigate itself.
  • It is urgent that the issues within the NWS tornado warning programing be determined and fixed as quickly as possible. Again, the NWS should not investigate itself.
  • The NWS should repeal all of the new types of tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings that it started in August 2021.

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