Surf’s up? False alert warns of tsunami headed for Destin

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Annie Blanks @DestinLogAnnie

DESTIN —Did you survive the Destin tsunami of 2018?

Thankfully, all of us did. A false tsunami warning alert was sent out to people all along the East Coast, Gulf Coast and Caribbean Sea on Tuesday morning, including Dan Collins, a Destin resident who got the alert as he was getting his kids ready for school.

“It just popped up on my phone and I was like, ‘What?’” Collins said. “So of course, I sprung into action. The first thing was to turn on The Weather Channel to see if they had anything about it, ’cause my other apps weren’t showing anything.”

The alert Collins received was from AccuWeather, a private weather company. It read, “Severe Weather Alert. Tsunami warning in effect for Destin, FL until 8:28 a.m. CST. Source: U.S. National Weather Service.”

“It seemed a little fishy,” Collins admitted, adding a quick Google search showed the alert was false.

According to the National Weather Service. AccuWeather sent out the blast to thousands of people Tuesday morning warning them a tsunami was headed to each of their areas. In a recorded statement, an NWS spokeswoman said the tsunami alert was false and part of a routine internal test that was inadvertently made public by another company.

“There is currently no tsunami threat,” the spokeswoman said. “The National Tsunami Warning Center, part of the National Weather Service, issued a routine tsunami test message at approximately 8:30 a.m. Eastern Time this morning. The tsunami test message was released by at least one private sector weather company as an official tsunami warning … we are currently looking into why the text message was distributed by at least one private sector company and will provide more information as soon as we have it.”

AccuWeather, for its part, sent out a statement mid-day Monday blasting the National Weather Service for what it said was “miscoding” the test message.

“This morning, AccuWeather passed on a National Weather Service Tsunami Warning that was intended by the NWS to be a test but was miscoded by the NWS as a real warning,” the statement read. “AccuWeather has the most sophisticated system for passing on NWS tsunami warnings…while the words ‘TEST’ were in the header, the actual codes read by computers used coding for (a) real warning, indicating it was a real warning.”  

Collins said he received the alert at 7:30 a.m. When he opened the app on his phone and clicked through for a little while, a message inside the app said the alert had been a test.

But Collins, who said he has survived F5 tornadoes in Ohio and hurricanes on the Gulf Coast, said he experienced “a little panic” in the first moments after receiving the alerts.

“It seemed a little fishy,” he said. “I was just trying to investigate for myself until I knew for sure.”

Okaloosa County Emergency Management officials confirmed there was no tsunami threat.

People on social media shared their own screenshots of the alert, with the location reflecting the city or town they were in when they received it, from Shalimar to Pensacola.

“I was laying on my surfboard, in the parking lot at work, waiting, waiting, waiting,” one person on Facebook said. “To my disappointment and a bit of embarrassment, false alarm.”

“Would (have) cleared (U.S. Highway) 98 had it hit yesterday,” another person said.

Collins ultimately got a chuckle out of the whole thing, saying he was glad he “survived the Destin tsunami.”

“It’s a great way to prove you can reach people and keep them safe,” Collins said of the mass alert system. “But you also don’t want to send too many false alarms where people stop taking them seriously.”

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