This morning, an error in AccuWeather’s apps caused a routine National Weather Service tsunami test to go out to as a push notification or SMS alert, warning people of a nonexistent tsunami across the East Coast, reports The Herald Tribune.
The alert — which was meant as a test of transmission times for actual alerts — was apparently flagged as a genuine alert by the AccuWeather app, causing users with notifications enabled to wake up to a tsunami warning this morning. According to the NWS’s Miami branch, the tsunami test is one that is regularly conducted on a monthly basis, but apparently something went wrong this month that triggered the alerts for AccuWeather users. The false alarm was sent to residents across the East Coast and some parts of the South, including Houston, New Orleans, Charlotte, Charleston, and the New England area.
According to a statement released by AccuWeather, while the actual text of the message labeled the alert as a test, the computer coding used the NWS’s code for actual warnings, resulting in the tsunami warning getting passed on. Per the company’s statement: “The responsibility is on the NWS to properly and consistently code the messages, for only they know if the message is correct or not.”
AccuWeather also notes that this isn’t the first time an issue like this has occurred. Back in 2014, another incorrectly coded message sent out false warnings, leading AccuWeather’s CEO to write to the NWS to point out issues in the current system.
Generally speaking, while it is possible, an East Coast tsunami is considered to be unlikely, due to the dramatically lower rate of earthquakes compared to the West Coast. But such a storm could still occur with catastrophic results.
Today’s error comes a few weeks after the disastrous false emergency alert warning of an incoming missile in Hawaii, which was caused largely in part by a poorly designed alert management system. The Hawaii alert went out over the statewide alert system and on TV networks. The AccuWeather failure, while still bad, looks less severe by comparison, only notifying users of what seems to be a single specific weather app. (Although apparently other services, including The Weather Channel, may also have mistaken posted the notice.)
According to a tweet from the National Weather Service’s New York branch, the organization is investigating how the AccuWeather error occurred and will update with more information soon.
Update February 6th, 2:30PM ET: Updated post to include statements from AccuWeather regarding the explanation for the mistaken notification.