The National Weather Service Needs to Fix its Communication Issues Now

The country's official weather forecasting agency keeps losing its communications during severe weather events, making it virtually impossible to issue life-saving warnings in some cases. This inexcusable weakness in its infrastructure will lead to people's deaths if they don't fix it now and it goes out again during a future emergency.

A couple of weeks ago, the National Weather Service experienced a highly-publicized communications outage during a major severe weather outbreak, during which they were completely unable to transmit radar data and severe weather warnings to the public. This left them completely reliant on sending out warnings through social media.

During that severe weather outbreak on May 22, a half-mile wide EF-3 tornado touched down in the town of Duanesburg, New York, and meteorologists were unable to warn people of the significant tornado due to the communications outage. If people weren't following the local office on Facebook or Twitter, they likely had no idea the storm was coming. Thankfully, the major tornado caused no injuries.

The outage on May 22 was due to a firewall upgrade.

The National Weather Service Needs to Fix its Communication Issues Now

Another communications outage occurred on Wednesday. During a severe weather event from North Carolina to New York, the National Weather Service yet again lost communications and had major website/internet connectivity issues. The above screenshot of the website run by the NWS office in Wakefield, Virginia shows the glitches that occurred both with the warnings and the website itself.

Unlike the outage a couple of weeks ago, Wednesday's issues seemed to involve the agency's websites.

One meteorologist told me that another National Weather Service office couldn't even access its internal chat system — NWS Chat — that the agency's forecasters use to talk to one another, emergency management, and the media to explain their decision-making process and share/receive critical updates such as damage reports or confirmation of a tornado.

One of the most visible and important agencies to public safety simply should not be so vulnerable to major communications outages. That websites such as Netflix or Club Pogo can stay online during even the most demanding of days but the infrastructure that supports the organization that issues tornado warnings just randomly craps out is unacceptable.

It's astounding to think that something as simple as a firewall upgrade in May and what appears to have been an internet tech issue yesterday could so greatly impact their services for any length of time, especially during a severe weather event. What's even more worrisome is that the redundancies the NWS says are in place seemingly don't work as they should or are outright failing.

Switch providers. Upgrade your wires. Unclog the tubes. Whatever it is, the NWS needs to do something, and fast.

[Images via Wikimedia Commons and the National Weather Service]