Apr 2, 2024 - Energy & Environment

Data outage affects National Weather Service amid severe storms

A man sits in front of 6 computer monitors showing weather information.

Philippe Papin, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center, at work in Miami in May 2023. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A widespread, long-lasting data outage occurred late last night into this morning at National Weather Service forecast offices across the country.

Why it matters: The outage prevented forecasters from accessing crucial information and delayed severe weather warnings just as dangerous thunderstorms were moving through the Central U.S. and Midwest.

Zoom in: The telecommunications outage at a NOAA facility in College Park, Md.,prevented National Weather Service forecasters across the country from receiving data and, in some cases, interfered with weather warning distribution as well.

  • Radar data went down on public-facing sites, though it is not clear if NWS offices lost their internal data feeds from their radar systems.
  • Severe thunderstorms were ongoing across multiple states overnight when the glitches occurred.

Between the lines: According to NWS spokesman Michael Musher, the outage "Occurred over 5 hours."

  • "During this outage, some warning services were impacted," Musher said. He said network services were switched to a NOAA facility in Boulder, Colo., and had returned to normal as of 6:30 am ET Tuesday morning.

What they're saying: "Watches and warnings out of some forecast offices were delayed, and in some cases didn't go out over all of our dissemination channels but they were transmitting over NOAA Weather Radio," Musher told Axios.

  • "We are working with the vendor to identify the root cause of the outage," he said, noting that the agency is trying to determine the specific impacts to its operations as well.

The intrigue: The outage is another in a long line of telecommunications infrastructure problems at the agency.

  • Like the one on Tuesday, many have had to do with what is known as the telecommunications gateway, which the agency describes as "The primary data communications switching system of the NWS."
  • It distributes data nationally and internationally.
  • The agency has built-in redundancies whereby affected offices pass their responsibilities to other nearby forecast centers, but these can be of limited use if a data outage is widespread.
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