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False Alarms Halt Weather System Tests

March 05, 1987|Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The National Weather Service ordered a halt to all test warnings on its national weather wire Wednesday until corrections can be made in new computer programs that have led to several false warnings.

Two false warnings have been issued in the Chicago area and others occurred in Brownsville, Tex.; Long Island, N.Y.; Washington, and Dodge City, Kan., weather service spokesman Donald Witten said.

He said the troubles started after local weather service offices were sent new computer programming disks designed to speed warnings when severe weather conditions occurred.

The disks include prepared messages, with local forecasters only required to fill in the names of endangered cities or counties and provide any necessary localizing information, he said.

Test Statement Omitted

When the meteorologists tried the new disks, they were supposed to include the statement: "This is just a test," but for some reason that phrase did not get transmitted in several instances, Witten said.

He said weather service programmers are analyzing the disks to see where the problem is and to correct it, a process that could take a few days.

In the most widely publicized instance, a tornado warning was issued early Monday, stating incorrectly that a twister had destroyed Rockford, Ill., and was headed for Chicago.

The statement was broadcast on radio stations in the Chicago area before a correction was issued.

In the Long Island case, the warning from the New York City weather office Feb. 20 involved a tornado warning for Nassau County, N.Y., and two New Jersey counties, local news media reported. Sixteen minutes later, a message said the original warning had been in error.

Other False Warnings

The Brownsville case Monday morning also involved a tornado warning, weather service officials said. In the Washington incident, a severe weather warning was issued Sunday afternoon.

In Dodge City, the false bulletin early Wednesday reported a tornado near Medicine Lodge and said it was moving northeast.

"This is a dangerous storm situation," the bulletin said. "Act quickly."

Five minutes later, the weather service sent a disclaimer saying the bulletin had been sent by mistake.

Jim Johnson, a meteorological technician on duty when the false bulletin moved, said he was testing a new computer program used for severe storms forecasting when the bulletin was accidentally transmitted.

The warnings are distributed on the agency's weather wire, a Teletype circuit that prints local conditions, forecasts and warnings. Local weather service offices issue their reports on the wire, which is used by news media and government agencies.

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