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    NWS Outage Blocked Delivery of Severe Storm Warnings

    By Emily Yehle, E&E reporter
    5/27/2014 11:28:59 AM

    The National Weather Service failed to post all warnings for a severe thunderstorm in Washington, D.C., yesterday, fueling concerns over the agency's aging infrastructure.

    In an email obtained by Greenwire, the NWS Telecommunications Operations Center reported a "major" outage from 4:06 p.m. to 4:37 p.m.

    "It appears that all NWS warnings did not properly disseminate during the outage, and significant severe weather was occurring during the outage," officials wrote. "The cause and full scope of this anomaly are still being evaluated, but it appears a firewall upgrade caused the anomaly."

    Clouds in February of 2012. (Credit: Flickr/Jan Smith)

    The failure means some forecast offices were unable to issue warnings on the NWS website or to news media. Some offices took to Twitter to try to get the word out.

    NWS spokesman Chris Vaccaro said in an email today the firewall upgrade affected some forecasting offices' ability "to issue some products as intended."

    "We continue to assess the root cause and the scope of impact, but products are now being disseminated without issue," he said.

    The NWS Employees Organization says the outage highlights the need for more investment in the agency's staff and infrastructure. The union has argued that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has allowed vacancies at the Weather Service to grow in recent years. The agency is operating today with nearly 14 percent of its positions unfilled (Greenwire, May 14).

    The agency also is dealing with aging infrastructure, and critics say NWS needs redundancies to ensure that one failure doesn't prevent the issuance of warnings, particularly in serious weather. Yesterday's outage came immediately before tornado warnings in the Washington, D.C., region.

    NOAA has asked Congress for funds to upgrade its IT infrastructure in its fiscal 2015 budget request. Union officials have said the agency is in a "very sorry state communications-wise" (Greenwire, March 20).

    Bill Hopkins, the union's executive vice president, called yesterday's failure "totally unacceptable."

    "It is just a matter of time until there will be loss of life," he said. "The NWS can only put Band-Aids on things for so long before they wear out."

    Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500.

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