Tsunami alert startles East and Gulf coasts

Joseph A. Gambardello and Anthony R. Wood, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Weather News

PHILADELPHIA -- And you thought the Philadelphia Eagles' improbable Super Bowl win was a seismic event.

Some Jersey Shore residents were startled Tuesday morning when their cellphones went off with a tsunami alert that rippled all along the East, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean coasts. It turned out to be a false alarm.

The National Weather Service said it was investigating how what it called "a routine test message" sent out about 8:30 a.m. "was released by at least one private sector company as an official Tsunami Warning."

The agency said the result was "widespread reports of tsunami warnings received via phones and other media."

One of those companies was AccuWeather Inc., which blamed the National Weather Service for sending out a "miscoded" message.

Joanne Sosangelis of Lake Como, N.J., said she had just gotten out of the shower and was getting dressed when her Verizon cellphone buzzed.

"I picked up the phone, saw the alert and sat down on my bed and I was, like, ah, OK," she said. "The first thing that ran through my mind was: Can I drive west fast enough before it hits?"

She paused for a second and realized there were no sirens blaring or any other alerts.

Sosangelis said she checked her weather app and was relieved when she saw the National Weather Service statement that it was a test.

"I said to myself: You jackasses almost gave me a heart attack," Sosangelis said. "At the point it was a little funny, but not entirely funny."


In its statement, AccuWeather said that the weather service warning did contain the word "TEST" in the header but that the "the actual codes read by computers used coding for real warning, indicating it was a real warning."

The company said similar errors had occurred previously and that it had registered a written complaint with the weather service in October 2014.

Verizon referred requests for comment to the weather service.

Although rare, tsunamis resulting from earthquakes and possibly powerful storms evidently have occurred along the Mid-Atlantic coast.

In June 2013, a strong outrush tide carried water rapidly seaward from Barnegat Inlet, followed by a 6-foot wave that spanned the width of the inlet, sweeping three people off a jetty, two of whom required medical treatment.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Tsunami Warning Center determined that the wave was a minor tsunami, coinciding with a strong windstorm over the Jersey Shore.

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