National Weather Service planned data outage on May 5, 2020: What you need to know

We have been informed by the National Weather Service that they need to do a major network infrastructure upgrade on May 5, 2020. This will knock out several weather data sources for 2-3 hours. Here are the details, and what we at AllisonHouse are doing to mitigate it.

WHAT’S GOING ON?

The National Weather Service will be doing a major network upgrade in their internal data relay and acquisition system from 12Z-14:30Z (7 AM CT to 9:30 AM CT) on Tuesday, May 5, 2020. This will be done to eliminate congestion during peak periods, thus reducing or eliminating data delays and improving reliability. This will knock out several data feed types from NOAAport, the primary data feed that the National Weather Service sends to all National Weather Service offices and major weather data vendors (including us).

WHAT FEED TYPES WILL BE DOWN FROM NOAAPORT?

The outage will result in the loss of the following data:

Most text-based products (including ALL weather watches, advisories and warnings)

ALL Level 3 standard resolution radar data (including all base reflectivity/velocity products, correlation coefficient, and KDP), as well as derived products such as VIL, 1 and 3 hour and storm total precipitation. In short, ALL level 3 radar products will be down.

MRMS radar mosaics

METARs (airport weather observations)

MADIS (5 minute METARs and mesonet data)

ALL models run during that time (NAM, HRRR, etc)

Buoy data

WHAT WE WILL DO TO MITIGATE THIS AS MUCH AS WE CAN

Here is what Allisonhouse is doing to mitigate this outage as much as possible. First, we have access to a backup data feed that will transmit some of the missing products, with caveats, and we also generate some of our own products, which will also mitigate much of the data loss during this maintenance window. Here is a summary of what will happen with each of these feeds for our customers:

Level 3 radar products: AllisonHouse customers will notice NO outages or interruptions from products that we make that are super-resolution. This includes base reflectivity, base velocity, KDP, and CC. This applies to tilts 1-3. We cannot make super-resolution products for higher tilts, so tilts 4 and higher will not update (use GRAnalyst for that; Level 2 data is completely unaffected by this outage). If you use GRLevel3, Storm Relative Velocity tilts 1-3 will also still work as intended. RadarScope and RadarOmega customers will only see outages on the highest tilts as described above, and derived products, such as Storm Total Precipitation.

NWS watches, advisories and warnings: we should get them through our backup data feed; however, they will be delayed anywhere from 5 seconds to 2 minutes.

METARs: They will be sent on our backup feed with a 5 second to 2 minute delay. However, those partners that use our direct-from-FAA METARs will see NO delay (this includes GRAnalyst/GRLevel3 METAR placefiles).  All other software will experience the delay described above (including GREarth, and AWIPS-2).

MRMS radar: We get these via fiber, EXCEPT for the AWIPS-2 server, which unfortunately *requires* them to go through the NOAAport satellite feed. AllisonHouse Maps and GREarth customers will be unaffected.

MADIS: We get these via fiber, therefore, MADIS should remain operational with no delays.

Buoy data: Unfortunately, buoy data is not on either of the two backup feeds we have available to us. That data will be lost.

Models: We’re just going to have to wait until the feed comes back up. Plan on a major delay in model information with the 12Z NAM, and 12Z-14Z HRRR, at a minimum.

COMPLICATIONS:

We don’t exactly know when the feeds will come back up. As a precaution, we are keeping the feed on for 3 hours. If the NWS manages to get the feed back up in 2 hours in a best-case scenario, some production duplication (most notably, warnings on RadarScope, GREarth GRAnalyst, GRLevel3 and AllisonHouse Maps) may occur. We ask for your forgiveness as we would rather have that, than miss a very important bulletin. It is important to note that not all feeds may come back at once, and they may be quite unstable for a while after as the system slogs through the backlog of data to be sent,

If the outage unexpectedly goes on longer than that, we can make the backup feed stay on as long as we want. That will have to be manually done, but we will closely monitor the feed Tuesday morning to see if an extension of the backup is warranted. If you do not see the data type listed above (such as Level 2 radar and satellite imagery), you can be assured those feeds will be unaffected.

If you have any concerns or questions, feel free to drop us an email on our support page. Thank you for your patience, and know we have done our best to minimize the impacts of this outage to you!

AllisonHouse and COVID-19 (“Coronavirus”): What about AllisonHouse?

COVID-19 under a microscope
The Coronavirus threatens to disrupt everything. What are we doing about it at AllisonHouse?

As I type this, the United States is reporting a rapid increase in the numbers of people sick or infected with COVID-19, a variant of the Coronavirus. While there is still a lot we don’t know about it, we’re learning more by the day, but we do know that it is rather easily spread among humans. By now, you should have seen what you should do to minimize the affects of this strain of Coronavirus; see http://www.cdc.gov for more details. But here’s a question you might have: what about AllisonHouse? What if our great employees get sick from it?

Frankly, being a small company, all of us wear multiple hats, and so depth of generalists is good here. All but a few of us can log in, diagnose, and/or rectify many issues. We are also diverse in location. And we all are out of the high-risk groups where this strain of Coronavirus is fatal. And, all in our group are athletic and/or in good health.

Are we concerned? Yes. But our plan for this—and any other disaster that can befall us—is diversity of talent and location (in both equipment and staffing), with people who will take over for each other should the need arise. Our senior programmer was out for a while, and yours truly as well, for various incidents that arose—and we backed each other up during the issues. Subscribers did not experience a loss of service, and some upgrades went on as usual. Some were postponed until the issues were over. We can and will adjust if necessary.

It’s not “don’t worry, be happy”, but “don’t worry, but be ready to take on duties of others for a time” here at AllisonHouse. But what about our vendors? That’s a good question. Many are operating on a “if you have the sniffles, you aren’t coming in!” philosophy. Some companies don’t have very good continuity of business plans. This will force them to improve on them now! However, we will work with all of our vendors the best that we can to keep all of the data flowing to you in the timely matter you have come to expect from AllisonHouse.

We’re all in this together. Follow the basic rules to prevent this and other viruses, and you’ll be as prepared as can be, as we are. We’ll post updates, if need be, if we are having any issues. In the meantime, relax, and watch the weather!

RANT: Lightning, and know what you are getting to detect it

These spectacular lightning bolts caused significant damage to a police and emergency warning system in DeKalb, IL. While no one was injured, a nearby outdoor event with many people in attendance got fortunate. Photo (C) and courtesy of Gilbert Sebenste

Several years ago, I had the honor of working a NCAA golf tournament as their meteorologist. Being that this tournament was in the summer, and that thunderstorms were in the forecast for multiple days, I set up my station to display two things: a vendor-provided lightning display that the NCAA uses officially, and then mine: GRAnalyst with a lightning subscription through AllisonHouse.

On the second day of the tournament, we had thunderstorms violate the boundary where players and spectators needed to be evacuated. Lightning showed up on my AllisonHouse display first, and it did so 10 minutes before the official display did. And then, when we heard the thunder, on the official display, the bolt was not seen AT ALL, but on mine, all 5 thunderclaps we heard in the next several minutes were picked up by AllisonHouse’s lightning service, but not by the official display.

What the heck?

I then went on a rant to myself about how the official vendor’s lightning data was lousy and dangerous. But after the event was over, I spent time to research what went wrong. And it was there that I found a stunning answer.

Most lightning data vendors for sports and entertainment venues only display cloud-to-ground lightning strikes, and NOT those that are cloud to air, cloud to cloud, or intracloud lightning (I’ll just call these cloud-to-air, for simplicity). At AllisonHouse, we give you the option to plot either/or with our placefiles, since sports have different ramifications from advertising to the gambling world when people invest a lot of money betting on sports, and if you like to bet from your home you can also use sites as this slot online which is great for this.

Now, you can argue: “Hey, if a lightning bolt doesn’t hit the ground, then it was harmless, so why would you want to see those bolts plotted anyway?” The answer is simple: they are very frequently a prelude to the next cloud to ground lightning strike.

As stated in the NCAA rulebook: if you have lightning within 12 miles of your outdoor event, you must immediately stop the contest and evacuate all participants and spectators to shelter. For the PGA Tour, it states explicitly:

“PGA TOUR Officials are constantly monitoring the weather with an on-site meteorologist and state of the art technology. In the event that lightning is detected at a distance from the course that threatens the safety of the individuals at the event, play is immediately suspended and the course is evacuated for safety precautions.” Source: https://www.pgatour.com/company/pga-tour-faqs.html

Again, it does not specify what type of lightning requires evacuation. ALL lightning is potentially dangerous, and cloud to air strikes are frequently your early warning that ground strikes are occurring, or imminent.

Here at AllisonHouse, we offer lightning data from what we believe through research is the best available in terms of quality and timeliness. This ground-based network is exemplary in detecting the location and type of lightning accurately, within 100′ when using our raw data feed product. Furthermore, AllisonHouse also delivers lightning data strike locations from the GOES-16/17 Lightning Mapper (GLM). With these two data sources, your meteorologist can accurately diagnose the situation. It’s always fun when I get a lightning strike near me and hear the thunder, and as the thunder trails off, I can see where the bolt was exactly on my monitor!

In summary, if you want to see the complete lightning picture where you are, get an AllisonHouse subscription! Our lightning data is the best available, 24/7/365. The only caveat to this, and this applies to all lightning vendors: during thundersnow with extreme snowfall rates, a few flashes might go undetected. This is possibly because the snow literally mutes the static discharge to the point that the discharges are too weak to detect them. I see this happen during extreme snowfall rates, and even my AM radio tuned to a weak or non-existing station barely glitches during these events. Regardless, when you want the best and affordable lightning data, come to us…I think you’ll find our data services strikingly good and affordable! I mean, it will shock you how good our service is. Once you try us, you’ll never want to bolt!

Sorry.

Anyway…please send an email to our support address with any questions you may have about our data. We’ll be happy to assist you in any way that we can, to help you prepare and be ready for another storm season!