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Since You Asked: Tsunami alert went all the way to the coast

About that false tsunami warning Tuesday — what in the world is the National Weather Service doing? Why were they issuing a tsunami warning for a place nearly 100 miles from the ocean? What were they thinking?

— Dale D., Medford

Their intentions were good, Dale. Read on.

The weather service has the capability to interrupt radio and television transmission to broadcast severe weather warnings, but the system covers an entire media market area, says Ryan Sandler, the meteorologist who manages the warning system.

Cities and towns along the Southern Oregon coast are part of the Medford media market, so a tsunami warning that's intended for the coast would also be broadcast locally in Medford. The rationale was to make sure that as many people as possible who would be directly affected by a tsunami would get the warning, and people in Jackson and Josephine counties would know that a tsunami would never reach this far inland.

"We determined it would be worth the inconvenience (for inland people) to reach the maximum number of people on the coast," Sandler says.

Tuesday's warning was a mistake made during a training exercise.

He notes that a similar situation occurred in 2005 in the Portland area when a false tsunami alarm was broadcast in the Willamette Valley because the warning system for the north Oregon Coast includes the Willamette Valley market.

Sandler says there's no way to select the segments of the media that would carry an emergency warning to just the people who need it most. An actual tsunami warning would include information about the areas that were likely to be affected, he says.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com.