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Weather App Suspended After User Reports False Incidents to Recreate Swastika

The National Weather Service has received false weather reports recently through a popular citizen science application that is supposed to increase meteorologists’ awareness of ongoing severe weather. The application, mPING, was temporarily suspended last week after a spate of false reports made to recreate a swastika.

Twitter users posted screen shots showing a spattering of false flooding reports throughout New Mexico and Texas’s Big Bend area. Other false weather reports popped up in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, Tiananmen Square in China, and Auschwitz in Poland.

The mPING initiative was implemented in 2012 as a way to crowdsource storm reports from the general public. The mPING app does not require users to pass any sort of background examination in meteorology, but the observations can prove useful in fast-changing, potentially life-threatening severe-weather situations.

“Anyone can submit a weather observation anonymously,” according to the National Weather Service website, producing a map “accessible to everyone.”

Twitter users, including many who work in meteorology, were quick to call the breach “completely insensitive,” “hideous and disgusting,” and “disappointing [but] inevitable.”

NOAA believes that the false data was made possible by “spoofing” GPS data — when a perpetrator manually overrides the place where their electronic device believes it is located, said Keli Pirtle, spokeswoman for NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL).