False tsunami warning shakes East Coast

People up and down the East Coast got a startling warning Tuesday morning: A tsunami was rolling their way.

Except it wasn’t. The National Weather Service says the warning was just a test gone wrong.

A routine monthly test somehow turned into an AccuWeather alert, without any warning that it was fake.

“We’re trying to find out what happened,” said Robert Molleda, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Miami. “We’re not assigning blame right now.”

The test message came from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Tsunami Warning Center in Alaska. It was relayed by AccuWeather, a private weather forecasting service that attributed it to the National Weather Service, an arm of NOAA.

The National Weather Service said it was a routine, coded test message, adding: “We will continue to work with our partners to prevent this from occurring again.”

The warning appeared on cellphones along the East Coast, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean and caught fire on social media.

It came about a month after an emergency management worker in Hawaii sent out a false alarm about an impending missile strike, panicking people across the islands.

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, AccuWeather pinned the blame for the tsunami warning on the Weather Service, which it said miscoded the test message as a real warning. AccuWeather has warned the Weather Service in the past of the potential for miscoded messages, the statement said.

If you get a tsunami warning, consider this: There’s little chance of a killer wave in South Florida. In 100 years of records, a tsunami has never hit South Florida.

“Based on what we know as far as our records go and understanding of the geography of the area, the tsunami threat for Southeast Florida is very low,” Molleda said. “We can’t say with absolute certainty it’s zero, but we can say it’s very low. It’s low but not impossible.”

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