NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, says it was the target of an Internet-based hacking attack “in recent weeks.”
The federal agency, which operates the National Weather Service, is being tight-lipped about the details of the attack and its subsequent decision to take down some of its websites in response.
The “impacts were temporary and all services have been fully restored,” NOAA said in a written statement. The agency also said the incident did not compromise its ability to offer forecasts to the public.
But, according to the Washington Post, there was a disruption of some weather data, including information provided to European weather forecasting counterparts. Such weather data is critical to a number of industries and government operations, all of which rely on raw data provided by the National Weather Service.
“Most airlines have their own weather prediction and monitoring operation,” but rely on NWS raw data, says Ross Aimer, a retired United Airlines pilot and aviation consultant. Cockpits inside more modern airplanes also have satellite weather images beamed in, Aimer says.
The outage, which reportedly occurred in October during the hurricane season, also exposes the reliance on government weather data for disaster planners.
“We see a storm coming … and all the information you can have prompts decisions about when you evacuate, where do you move people to, what places will be safe and what places will be inundated,” says Gary Cecchine, a senior policy analyst at RAND Corporation.
In Chicago, for example, forecasts help determine when to open the water gates into Lake Michigan to prevent flooding.