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Just a drill | 'Malfunction' led to emergency alert with tornado warning, weather service says

The drill is part of Missouri's Severe Weather Preparedness Week, which started March 1. There was no tornado warning in the St. Louis area Tuesday

ST. LOUIS — You may have heard a siren and received an alert on your phone Tuesday morning, saying there was a tornado warning in the St. Louis area. However, there was no tornado or severe weather in the area. 

It was part of a drill.

However, the push alert sent to cellphones did not clarify that it was part of a drill and the St. Louis office of the National Weather Service is investigating what led to the confusion.

The title of the push alert was "Emergency Alert" and it advised people to seek shelter.

Around the same time, the St. Louis office of the National Weather Service posted advice on Twitter on how to seek shelter during a tornado.

"Tornadoes can be extremely dangerous," the tweet said. "Safe places include storm shelters & basements, but if not available, an interior room without windows can also be protective. If you receive a tornado warning, take shelter immediately!"

Minutes later, the National Weather Service posted another tweet, saying "There has been confusion this morning with our test of the tornado warning system as part of the tornado drill. There was a malfunction between the NWS & the Weather Emergency Alert (WEA) system. The test warning should have not activated WEA. We apologize for the inconvenience. "

The National Weather Service said it is investigating and sent the following statement to 5 On Your Side:

"As part of the Missouri Severe Weather Preparedness Week, a test Tornado Warning was sent out at 10 am CST this morning. Typically, this warning is used to test NOAA Weather Radios, the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and serves as an opportunity for local jurisdictions to test their outdoor warning sirens. However, this year the test Tornado Warning also activated the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system which sends alerts to many cellular devices. When this WEA alert was issued, there was no wording indicating this was a test Tornado Warning. We have started an investigation into why the WEA system was activated. We sincerely apologize for any confusion."

Kevin Deitsch, a National Weather Service warning coordination meteorologist, said they are trying to figure out what might have caused the issue.

“Typically, this test tornado warning will not activate the Wireless Emergency Alert System,” said Deitsch. “This year, it did. As a result, we’re working to figure out why it activated the WEA system.”

Deitsch said they heard from people across the state about the malfunction.

“We’ve heard from schools who took kids to their safe places,” said Deitsch. “Again, that’s probably a good thing, but we want them to do it, knowing it’s a drill, not thinking it’s the real thing. Unfortunately, we did hear about a couple hospitals that moved some patients into hallways to get them away from windows, not realizing this was a test. I sincerely apologize for any confusion.”

It appeared on some TV sets as a tornado warning for Missouri counties, along with audio explaining it was a test. In Illinois graphics explained it was a required monthly test.

On Monday, the state's emergency management agency posted about the drill on its Twitter account.

"TOMORROW AT 10 a.m., Missouri holds the statewide tornado drill. @NWS radios will sound," the tweet said. "Most sirens across the state will too. Have a plan. Make sure everyone in your family knows where they would shelter and has multiple ways of receiving alerts. #MoWx"

This is a developing story and will be updated as 5 On Your Side receives more information.

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