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Old 12-20-2007, 02:53 PM
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Default Orlando Sentinel - Weather-service error reduced storm warnings
Weather-service error reduced storm warnings
Sandra Pedicini
Sentinel Staff Writer
December 19, 2007
Human error prevented many people in Central Florida from getting tornado-warning alerts on their weather radios during a storm Sunday, a National Weather Service spokesman said Tuesday.

A National Weather Service employee turned down power to an Orlando transmitter for testing Thursday and forgot to turn it back up. That resulted in sporadic signal coverage from the transmitter.

The problem was corrected Tuesday morning, said Dennis Decker, a warning-coordinator meteorologist with NWS.

The weather agency's Melbourne office sent information about the incident to its regional headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas, "to come up with procedures to make sure we don't do this again," Decker said.

Officials did not know how many people were without signals on their weather radios since Thursday as a result of the goof.

It resulted in a patchwork of coverage, meaning that one person would not get a signal, but their neighbor would.

The mistake came to light after a fast-moving storm formed early Sunday from the remnants of Tropical Storm Olga in the Gulf of Mexico. Tornado warnings were issued for parts of Seminole, Lake and Volusia counties.

The damage was less than expected -- primarily downed trees and power outages -- and no injuries were reported.

Signals didn't play favorites

In Oviedo, the fire chief was among about a dozen people who reported not getting a warning on a weather radio. Lake County's emergency management also notified the National Weather Service after the storm that it had heard similar reports.

National Weather Service officials at first theorized that atmospheric conditions may have interfered with signals. The conditions just before sunrise are most likely to interfere with transmissions, Decker said.

But after more investigation, officials determined that the transmitter was not working correctly.

"I don't feel that safe now, knowing that we weren't warned," said Rose Spychalski, a resident of the Royal Harbor community in Tavares.

A retiree from New Jersey, she bought weather radios after moving to Florida because she was worried about hurricanes. Her two radios seemed to work fine until Sunday morning, when they did not sound any alarms.

Some people thought they hadn't programmed their radios correctly or that the devices had malfunctioned. Gerald Reddan of Leesburg brought his radio back to the store where he had bought it, and exchanged it for a new one.

It's not the first time residents were let down by their weather radios.

When tornadoes hit Lake County on Feb. 2, many radios failed to warn residents of The Villages, where more than 1,000 homes were destroyed. Twenty-one people were killed in Lady Lake and Lake Mack that day.

A new transmitter was put up in Sumterville to remedy the community's spotty coverage.

Another time last year, some weather radios in Central Florida did not get signals during a tornado watch because of a phone-line problem.

Warnings 'a No. 1 priority'

Still, Decker said weather radios that transmit warnings from his agency remain a good source of information and protection.

"Issuing warnings is a No. 1 priority in this office," he said. "We're here 24-7, 365 days a year, and we take all the measures we can to make sure the system works well because lives depend on it." When problems occur, Decker said, "you go back, you evaluate it, you find some way to correct it. You keep pressing on for a better system."

Sandra Pedicini can be reached at or 407-322-7669.
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