Breaking: Cause of weather alert failure during snowstorm found

Update 2:25 p.m.: Monday’s failure of the National Weather Service’s alert system during the strong storm in the Northeast was caused by a problem with its Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System, or AWIPS.

The failure lasted two hours, 36 minutes and prevented forecasters from fully distributing forecasts and warnings. It also caused problems with other weather forecasting offices, including in Miami, where meteorologists were unable to issue discussions or climate reports.

People could still get alerts through social media or NOAA Weather Radio.

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“The AWIPS communications system is a very reliable configuration and this is the first time both routers failed simultaneously,” an NWS statement said. “We are implementing additional communication pathways to the backup Network Control Facility to ensure that problems encountered in switching operations to this backup facility will not recur.”

A failure with AWIPS also occurred in July during severe weather in the Southeast.

The AWIPS network processes and distributes weather information to the 122 local forecasting offices nationwide and has been identified as “an essential government resource” in federal security directives, according to a NOAA budget request.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees the National Weather Service, is asking for a $5.1 million budget bump to refresh AWIPS. Without the upgrade, “the equipment will fail at higher rates.”

Previous story: The National Weather Service suffered a major outage to a system that controls its severe weather alerts as a blizzard with near hurricane-force winds blasted the Northeast on Monday.

The problem prevented meteorologists from “fully distributing forecasts and warnings,” the weather service said.

Animated satellite image of Monday's storm in the Northeast

Animated satellite image of Monday’s storm in the Northeast

Even the Miami office of the NWS was affected. Although it was not sending out severe weather alerts on Monday, its daily climate updates and other forecasts were not making it out.

Check The Palm Beach Post radar map.

“During the outage, the public was able to access forecasts, watches and warnings by NOAA Weather Radio and the social media accounts of their local forecast office,” a spokesman for the National Weather Service said. “Teams of technicians worked to restore the system to full service as quickly as possible.”

The NWS sent out the following Tweets during the outage:

The outage occurred approximately between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., according to the NWS.

Dan Sobien, president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization, said a network control facility in Silver Spring, Md., suffered a “major power hit” which took out both the main and backup routers that allow alerts to reach the facility. The facility is responsible for routing the information to appropriate outlets.

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“The backup is being initiated manually to point to the backup facility in Fairmont, WV,” Sobien said. “It is not clear why backup is not automatically initiated in such failure situations.”

The National Weather Service has struggled with outages during severe weather events in the past.

In October when Category 4 Hurricane Matthew was headed toward Florida, the National Hurricane Center’s website went dark.

Hurricane Matthew on Oct. 6, 2016

Hurricane Matthew on Oct. 6, 2016

Other websites were also affected, including NOAA’s home page, http://www.NOAA.gov.

In a statement, NOAA said that a hardware anomaly affected how NOAA sites identify themselves to the web and that forecasters were able to use social media, NOAA Weather Radio and “other information channels to communicate critical forecast information to partners and customers.”

In July, key National Weather Service systems nationwide went dark as tornadoes threatened the central U.S., hail pelted Iowa and thunderstorms blew up in South Florida.

For a four-hour period July 13, emergency alerts either failed to send or were delayed, while radar and current weather observations only were intermittently available to the public.

Some forecasting offices were forced to tweet screen captures of radar images during severe weather, including in the Kansas City area, where meteorologists were providing information to two county fairs hit by high winds.

Maureen O’Leary, a spokesman for the National Weather Service, said this morning that it is still trying to figure out what caused Monday’s outage.

“We are investigating the cause of the outage and will provide information as soon as we know more,” an NWS statement said.

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