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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