May 13, 2009. I had never seen a wedge-shaped tornado before. And neither had my chase partner and company president, Tyler Allison. I had GRLevel3, looked at the surface, upper air data and model guidance beforehand, and I was convinced: the Kirksville, MO was the place to be that afternoon.
For those who have never been to north-central or northeastern Missouri, and have ever done weather spotting or storm chasing there, let’s get one thing straight: that area is in a radar hole. In fact, Kirksville is 110 miles away from the closest radar, which is St. Louis…and a terminal doppler weather radar that serves Kansas City. If you are looking for rotation in storms there, you’re looking 12,000′ up *at best*…in many cases, higher than that.
On that day, thunderstorms were developing, and one west of Kirksville looked particularly intense…so we went for it. I cautiously navigated our team south of Kirksville, out of harm’s way, as a tornado coming into what is the equivalent of a substantial suburb of a major city is NOT the place to be!
The supercell quickly became tornadic, and west of Kirksville, 5 miles away to its south, we could see a tornado becoming a wedge as it headed towards the city. It was not a good situation; the EF-2 tornado killed at least one person. Once the tornado moved east of the city and got northeast of our location, we headed back to our car. The road network forced us to drive northeast for a time. This eventually placed us in or very near the path of the tornado! But, with yours truly navigating, I kept us out ahead of it, rain-wrapped most of the time from that point on. But as the storm, tornado and Tyler and I were approaching the Mississippi River, suddenly, something went wrong.
AllisonHouse went down. Specifically, no new data was coming in. And our social media and customer service emails were starting to come in, as people were beginning to wonder what was happening.
At the time, AllisonHouse was just me and Tyler. Logging into our system on what amounted to a 1x to maybe a low-end 3G cellular Internet connection, I quickly saw what happened: Level 2 radar data had pushed our disk usage to 100%. You can’t write data files to a full disk drive!
After a few minutes of figuring that out, another tornado drops down behind us, moving quickly east…and then we come into Quincy, IL.
I will never forget Tyler zig-zagging through the streets of downtown Quincy, sirens blaring, and the tornado bearing down (thankfully, it just missed the city…barely). As we were zig-zagging through the streets and I felt like I was in a roller coaster, I issued a command to our server to remove older, unnecessary level 2 data files from the system so that there would be room on the disk to write new ones (and level 3 and all other data as well). Super-reolution Level 2 radar had become a thing, but it was a bad thing for us that afternoon!
Within 30 minutes, navigating, watching funnel clouds and brief tornadoes from the Illinois side of the Mississippi River, the disk usage dropped to 90%, and we were “back on the air”. As we were watching the storm and seeing glimpses of the now rope-shaped funnel, I pounded out social media and email messages apologizing for the one hour long outage. After that, Tyler and I had learned our lessons about disk space!
Fast forward 7+ years. Rapid growth. New hires. A commitment to reliable, redundant, high-quality weather data that you can afford. And here’s what we’ve learned in 7 years on those fronts: Ample disk space, memory, and fast, reliable servers and network connections are an absolute must! This past year, we rebuilt our architecture completely from scratch on our new Internet service provider. Nearly everything is redundant on our provider’s end, and get this: our system is set up in such a way that if you, our customers, are pounding our servers hard on busy days, that issue is taken care of *automatically*. That is why, since we did our rebuild, you’ve pretty much never had slow data feeds from us, except when their is a problem on your Internet provider’s end, or with your computer.
We cannot achieve 100% uptime for you on an annual basis. We must do maintenance late at night every once in a while and reboot our servers, and your Internet provider has to do the same. And of course, you need to replace your computer or phone from time to time. And every great once in a while, something breaks on your end, or on the National Weather Service end, our on ours. So, neither of us can be perfect. Having said that, over this past year, we are over 99.99% in our uptime, including maintenance! Our hard work and dedication to you is paying off. Reliability and trust must be earned, and we are doing our best to earn that right for you. So, when you are with AllisonHouse, you can be assured that we’re doing everything we can to give you the data when you need it…even if it means working with a tornado in our rear view mirror!