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Tampering with the Weather Service Hurts Everybody

By Jocelyn Geboy in Arts & Entertainment on Jun 14, 2007 5:18PM

We have several areas of faux expertise. Ones we've gained from many years of watching TV shows on the subjects, reading novels on the subjects, reading news stories on the subjects and just being generally interested in the subjects. These subjects are law, medicine and weather. Needless to say, we've spent many hours with the Weather Channel on in the background. We've even had a favorite Weather Channel meteorologist (Dave Schwartz, anyone?) and we have a particular fondness for Tom Skilling, although everyone in the Chicagoist offices has their own favorite 'caster. We even tried to scientifically determine who was most accurate earlier on this year, but so far results have been inconclusive.

Regardless of who you prefer, the importance of weather forecasting in Chicagoland and its surrounding environs is pretty important, given the fact that the old joke that "if you don't like the weather, stick around five minutes" has actually been proven to be pretty realistic time and time again. It's not that unusual for the temperature to drop 20 degrees on a good cold front and for thunderstorms to rock the scene on a summer afternoon. (We absolutely love that stuff, by the way.)

2007_06storm.jpgSo, it's pretty bizarre and creepy that weatherpersons in Illinois and Wisconsin spent days checking out phony weather reports this spring. Meterologists use radar and other technology to issue weather warnings, but they also rely on trained weather spotters and sometimes, residents, to call in or submit weather reports of weather incidents to a National Weather Service website. Starting in late April, there were more 50 fake sightings to a National Weather Service Web site used to track severe weather over a six-week period.

The tips were generally tied to severe weather that was already happening, but the specific incidents given ("nickel-sized hail," "downed trees," "a tornado that had caused damage and injuries") were often enough to tip meteorlogists into issuing warnings that they ordinarily wouldn't have. National Weather Service officials became suspicious when reports were coming in regarding incidents from counties all over the place, but they were all coming from the same IP address. They flagged it and are now tracking anything from that address.

Because the Weather Service is a federal agency, being a scamming fuckshaw is a crime and carries penalties of up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sometimes people report inaccurate weather information, but why would you go out of your way to try and fool the National Weather Service? Nerd weather bragging rights? We can't imagine. If someone told us they did that, we'd kick their ass. If this activity continues, they will have to discontinue the online weather reporting capabilities, which sucks. Trained weather reporters and people who are seeing actual weather going down in their town are valuable resources for the meteorlogists. So, we implore whoever is doing this to just stop and turn their hacking attentions to somewhere else -- devising a new game for the Wii or something.

"Thunderstorm Passing" by jdunlevy