Weather.gov weak even without blizzard, study says

Website failed as monster storm approached


The National Weather Service’s Weather.gov website reportedly buckled under the strain of millions of extra visitors this week while a large swath of the country prepared for a monster blizzard.

But even on an average day, Weather.gov’s performance is weak, according to an independent test of the site’s overall speed, page-loading speed and other performance measures conducted by Indeep76's Site Speed Laboratory in December 2010.

“Based on our speed test results table and considering features of the current webserver location (Laurel, Md.), we concluded overall Weather.gov speed rank is 30,” Indeep76 said in its report. “This is a weak result.”


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The test also concluded that Weather.gov’s page-loading speed was slow and its domain name lookup speed was average. Latency, the speed of exchange between the user’s computer and the website’s server, was good, Indeep76 said.

“After the winter storm is over we'll take a close, hard look at the test results,” Curtis Carey, a spokesman for the NWS, said today. "In light of this storm, we'll reevaluate the modest plan we have for upgrades this year. We think the current equipment held out for as long as it could,” he said.

Starting Jan. 30, when the latest major snowstorm began gathering momentum, traffic on Weather.gov has been about five times higher than average, resulting in periods in which the website has been unavailable, according to a report from CBS News today.

The massive storm struck the Midwest on Feb. 1 and was moving eastward along an 800-mile front. It is dumping snow and ice across many areas of the country.

"We're looking at unprecedented demand from this event," Carey told CBS News.

"We're talking 15 to 20 million hits an hour on our Web servers. That's far beyond anything we've seen in the past."

As a result of the surge in use, website visitors reported difficulty accessing weather forecasts and radar imagery, CBS said, adding that the problems appeared to be fixed by the evening of Jan. 31.

The issues were first reported in a Washington Post article published Feb. 1.

This is not the first time Weather.gov has been criticized for its design and performance. In 2010, an article on CQ Roll Call’s Congress.org rated it the second worst federal website, saying its maps were confusing and its graphics awkwardly sized.

“The website has...10 million things on the front page," Owen Astrachan, a computer science professor at Duke University, told Congress.org.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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Reader comments

Sat, Feb 12, 2011 ACA

In my opinion, as a lead forecaster with the National Weather Service (NWS), there is a major issue with us getting some of our most vital information out to those that we serve through the weather.gov website on events such as these. I have worked what would be considered to be "high internet traffic events" in the past, and this type of problem has also occurred. In my opinion also, continued funding for the development and implementation of upgraded internet decision support services is critical for our information to get out to those we serve across this great country. I know that there are some big federal budgetary concerns with our large federal deficit, but a cut in funding for a service like this could cause some serious problems.

Sat, Feb 5, 2011

When we need these services the most, NWS is under funded to keep up with this growing demand. You get what you pay for.

Sat, Feb 5, 2011 racy_t NorthEastern Nevada

I think we need to reconsider where we are cutting government spending. We all know that spending needs to be cut, but not from agencies like the Weather Service that we depend on to give us accurate information daily. I am tired of giving my tax dollars to so many things that my family doesn't benefit from and then have costs (and obviously services) cut from things that I use all of the time like the National Weather Service. My son is a firefighter and they DEPEND on the Weather Service information during wildfire season. I don't want his life risked so taxpayers can save $2 a year.

Fri, Feb 4, 2011 Slashman Indiana

The NWS continues to forecast storms well in advance and helps save the U.S. economy hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Now Congress wants to cut their funding to levels of 2008?? Where is the cost-benefit analysis? More of these technology issues will go un-resolved and lives will be in jeopardy. If you are in Congress and read this, please don't let this happen! We spend too much money after a disaster and could save some of this spending by giving it to the NWS for proactive measures.

Thu, Feb 3, 2011

I guess the traffic piling up thru TIC and the EINSTEIN thing really gets bogged down.

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