A what kind of watch?

Well that was a fun way to end this morning’s class. Our school offers students (and staff) the ability to sign up for text alerts to their phones for weather related events, closings, etc. This morning, with about 15 minutes to go in the class, several students’ phones gave out just such an alert stating that we had a “tornado warning” and that everyone should seek shelter immediately. Note that this warning did not come across the PA system, nor was there any kind of other official announcement. We got the professors attention and she decided that perhaps our lives were worth more than the last few minutes of class and dismissed us a bit early, suggesting that we might consider seeking shelter!

Once outside the classroom, I did note how calm everyone seemed to be and how other classes did not seem to be obeying the instruction to “Take shelter immediately!” The view outside seemed to be one of a clear, albeit cold, Wisconsin day. Now this is not to say that we couldn’t have a tornado this time of year – I have been in the position of sitting in the closet under our stairs for several hours one January evening, but the skies didn’t look anything like they did this morning.

After heading over to my help desk job in the lab and talking with some of the people there, we think what happened is either they were testing the system or they meant to send out a winter weather watch. Tonight we are supposed to get hit yet again with a heavy snow storm along with the expected weather problems in the morning. Still, it’s a lot better than a tornado!

Addendum: a guest from the National Weather Service on our local NPR station this morning did confirm that the error was on their part. They were testing their system and the “tornado warning” had a malformed header tag which caused it to be distributed to the outside world instead of remaining in their internal system. The school alerts (and it wasn’t just us) simply passed it along. Oops!