National Weather Service warnings were delayed before the Iowa tornado

A government computer system got bogged down during Saturday’s deadly central Iowa tornado outbreak, slowing down the flow of meteorologists’ warnings by several minutes.

National Weather Service spokesperson Susan Buchanan said in a statement that the agency’s systems slowed down because of an unrelated technical problem at a Texas office. The issue overloaded the agency’s network, causing a delay in the flow of messages in the minutes before the largest and deadliest of the tornadoes ripped through Winterset, leaving six dead.

Buchanan said the longest delay occurred at 4:11 pm Saturday, when a warning from the agency, telling residents to take cover, did not go through until 4:18 pm

According to the agency, over about 90 minutes from 4:26 pm to 6:01 pm, the EF4 tornado tore 70 miles from southeast of Winterset through the south side of Des Moines and on to Newton. Winds topped out at 170 mph.

“The deadly tornado outbreak in Iowa on March 5 was heartbreaking, and our thoughts are with the victims and their loved ones,” Buchanan said.

Iowa State University systems analyst Daryl Herzmann, who tracks National Weather Service data, said the agency’s delays probably did not endanger residents, still giving them enough time to react – though he noted that the relatively slow development of the storm played a role in keeping the slowdown from becoming a critical issue.

Comparing the timestamps on the National Weather Service’s messages to the actual time they reached his computer, Herzmann said the agency sent its first delayed warning around 3:22 pm He estimates computer problems pushed back delivery about three minutes.

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