False tsunami alert hits Texas, East Coast

HARLINGEN — The popular AccuWeather service mistakenly read a National Weather Service test as a full-blown tsunami warning for the Texas Gulf Coast and the U.S. East Coast yesterday morning.

The private weather service alerted users to an imminent tsunami at 7:30 a.m. CST.

“Some may have received notifications that a tsunami warning is in effect for the Gulf Coast. There are NO tsunami warnings in effect. It was only a TEST,” read a Facebook posting by the National Weather Service in Brownsville.

The routine National Weather Service test resulted in a false push notification to mobile phones by AccuWeather about a tsunami warning, weather service officials said.

“The test message was released by at least one private sector company as an official tsunami warning, resulting in reports of tsunami warnings received via phones and other media across the East Coast, Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean,” reported the NOAA Tsunami Warning Center in a statement.

“The test message was not disseminated to the public via any communication channels operated by the National Weather Service,” it continued. “We are currently looking into why the test message was distributed by at least one private sector company, and will provide more information as soon as we have it.”

The apparent mix-up followed the tsunami warning center’s issuing of a routine, monthly test in Alaska.

But in a statement, Pennsylvania-based AccuWeather blamed the National Weather Service for the false alarm, saying the weather service “miscoded” a test message as a real warning. The word “TEST” was in the header of the message, but AccuWeather officials say they use a computer scan of codes which was missing or wrong in the weather service alert.

“Tsunami warnings are handled with the utmost concern by AccuWeather and it has sophisticated algorithms to scan the entire message, not just header words, as from the time of a warning to the actual event can be mere minutes,” the forecaster said in a statement.

“AccuWeather was correct in reading the mistaken NWS codes embedded in the warning. 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 officials said.

It’s just the latest in a series of recent false emergency alarms.

A Hawaii state employee mistakenly sent an alert warning of a ballistic missile attack on Jan. 13. A malfunction triggered sirens at a North Carolina nuclear power plant on Jan. 19.

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