On Feb. 6, the National Tsunami Warning Center (NTWC) sent a false emergency tsunami alert around 8:30 AM through the popular app AccuWeather. The NTWC meant to send out a test alert, but due to coding errors, AccuWeather users along the East Coast, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean received the warning.
Even though the National Weather Service (NWS) issued the message as part of a monthly exercise, AccuWeather misinterpreted the code and passed it along to the public as a real warning. Around 9 AM, the NWS in New York tweeted that “A Tsunami Test was conducted earlier this morning, that did have TEST in the message. We are currently trying to find out how a message went out as a warning.” Additionally, the NWS in Charleston, South Carolina, tweeted a revocation of the warning: “A monthly Tsunami Warning test was issued around 830 am by @NWS_NTWC.We have been notified that some users received this test message as an actual Tsunami Warning. A Tsunami Warning is not in effect. Repeat, a Tsunami Warning is not in effect.”
AccuWeather blamed the NWS for the mistaken alarm, claiming they “miscoded” a test message as a genuine emergency. While the service claimed the word “TEST” was written in the message’s header, the weather app released an announcement placing the blame on the NWS. “AccuWeather was correct in reading the mistaken NWS codes embedded in the warning. The responsibility is on the NWS to properly and consistently code the messages, for only they know if the message is correct or not,” the company said in a statement. The NWS released a statement saying that “Our investigation into this routine monthly tsunami test message confirmed that it was coded as a test message… We are working with private-sector companies to determine why some systems did not recognize the coding.” The NWS Tsunami Alerts’ twitter also tweeted that “The National Tsunami Warning Center did NOT issue a tsunami Warning, Watch, of Advisory for any part of the United States or Canada this morning.”
Coincidentally, AccuWeather sent the tsunami alert to the public as Congress was holding a meeting the same morning concerning the accidental emergency warning in Hawaii last month. On Jan. 13 earlier this year, a Hawaiian state worker sent an emergency ballistic missile alert. The app sent a correction almost 40 minutes later, but not before it caused mass panic among the islanders.
(Sources: NY Times, CBS New York, NBC New York, NWS Tsunami Alerts twitter)