Tsunami warning issued as a test in U.S., Tampa Bay

Some people in the Bay Area woke up Tuesday morning to an alarming alert on their cell phones, warning them about a possible incoming tsunami.

The message, however, was supposed to be a monthly test message by the National Weather Service that was mistakenly pushed out as the real thing to cell phone users in Tampa Bay, across Florida, the Caribbean and up the east coast.

"We are currently looking through our systems and they're looking through their systems to see where the error occurred," said Daniel Noah, the Warning Coordination Meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Tampa Bay. "We do this test multiple times throughout the year, actually every month, and we've never had a problem before. So what's different this time? That's what we're looking into."

It's hard to say who's to blame at this point, but the National Weather Service said an unnamed company errantly pushed out the test message as a legitimate warning.

FOX 13 has since learned that company is AccuWeather, which, which acknowledging the alert included the word 'test' was in the header of the original warning from the National Weather Service, said the rest of the message wasn't coded properly and went out as a warning.

Some of the people who received the alert were concerned for a little while.

"Normally it's just a rip tide warning or something like that or maybe a tornado warning, but never a tsunami warning," said Chrissy Ringo, who lives in Apollo Beach. "Because it came from AccuWeather, you automatically assume that it's going to be accurate, it's been vetted." 

Several National Weather Service offices launched an immediate social media campaign to spread the word that there was no tsunami warning.

"There is NO current Tsunami Warning, Advisory, Watch, or Threat for the U.S. Please refer to tsunami.gov and @NWS_NTWC for up to date information."

National Weather Service locations in major coastal areas in Florida report users received the alert. In the Florida Keys, weather officials say the NWS issues a test message every month and some weather apps available on smartphones sent alerts.

Ringo said she realized it was a test when she clicked on the alert, revealing the full message.

"I was thinking, 'gosh, that would have been nice to see at the beginning of that notification so that we weren't all a little bit panicked or confused,'" she said.

Noah, meanwhile, wants folks in Tampa Bay a tsunami is incredibly unlikely.

"For the Gulf Coast of Florida, our chance of a tsunami is very, very low. We need to have a magnitude 6.8 earthquake before we would issue a tsunami warning and we don't have any fault lines in the Gulf. So it's not zero percent, but it's close," he said. "Say there was an earthquake near Houston. That tsunami wave would take six hours to get to our coast."

This comes less than a month after people in Hawaii were falsely alerted about an incoming missile, causing fear and panic that lasted more than a half an hour.

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