Virginia conducted its annual statewide tornado drill at 9:45 a.m. Tuesday, but a software glitch stopped the test alert from being broadcast on NOAA radios and some broadcast television stations.
The communities served by the Sterling district of the National Weather Service did not hear the alert as planned.
“We created the message. We sent it, but because of a software glitch, it never activated the system,” said Chris Strong, warning coordinator meteorologist for the Sterling office. “That is why we test.”
The Sterling district covers the District of Columbia, much of Maryland, the northern third of Virginia, and the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, the Weather Service’s website states.
Strong said he has never experienced a glitch with the tornado drill in at least the last 10 years since he became coordinator.
“It has gone very good. I was disappointed this happened today,” he said.
The National Weather Service quickly began to work on solving the problem. As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, work was still underway to resolve the issue.
“We hope we have it resolved by the end of today (Tuesday),” Strong said.
Jeff Orrock, the meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service office in Wakefield, explained that a test message is coded different from an actual warning.
A test message only alerts weather radios and live television stations. An actual warning would also be sent to cellphones, Orrock said. He noted that the federal government is looking into the possibility of including test messages on cellphones.
Shenandoah and Warren county schools took part in the tornado drill Tuesday.
Shenandoah County Public Schools Superintendent Mark Johnston said the division uses multiple resources during inclement weather that keep the schools aware of what is happening. He said he would expect to remain in touch with school resource officers in the schools and law enforcement agencies. He also said the central office has an emergency weather radio and he receives emergency alerts.
Warren County Public Schools Superintendent Greg Drescher stated in an email that they also have multiple sources of information for weather alerts.
“If there would be a real event, we would get information over our weather radio, online, social media, or other news sources. We also have several of our folks that keep an eye on weather conditions at all times because of transportation. They would be aware of potential threats and alert us,” Drescher stated.