The message on the digital sign blew many away.
“STRONG WIND GUSTS 355+ MPH.”
The message lit up a Wyoming Department of Transportation electronic message board along Wyoming Boulevard near 15th Street at 4:49 p.m. Saturday. A WYDOT employee noticed the problem and the sign was corrected by 5:06 p.m.
But the whirlwind on social media lasted longer than 17 minutes.
“CASPER, WY,” said an Internet post that included a picture of the sign, “WHERE TORNADO ALLEY SEEMS PLEASANTLY BREEZY.”
The sign was in error, said Vince Garcia, a WYDOT program manager, in an email to the Star-Tribune.
WYDOT has hung electronic signs along Wyoming highways and interstates since the 1980s, said Kevin Cox, a WYDOT engineer. The signs notify drivers of weather conditions, closed exits and Amber Alerts of missing children.
This fall, WYDOT installed six new signs in Casper: Three along Wyoming Boulevard and three along Highway 220, the road heading southwest out of town, Cox said.
The signs cost either $100,000 or $300,000 each, depending on whether they are mounted on the side of the road or are mounted on an overhead sign, Cox said.
The Casper signs were installed in part to notify drivers of weather conditions, Cox said.
“We get weather alerts,” Cox said. “We have our own network of about 80 weather stations throughout the state. We actually put in new weather stations near 'Outer Drive.'”
The weather station that registered wind gusts late Saturday afternoon was accurate. But the message’s broadcast involved man.
That’s how the error occurred.
“They’re almost entirely typed in manually,” Cox said. “He presses ‘send’ and off it goes from a server in Cheyenne.”
Cox said the error was a typo. The WYDOT employee wanted to write that wind speeds were “35+” mph, but instead wrote that they were “355+.”
The WYDOT sign system has a dictionary. Words cannot be posted online if they don’t match with words in the dictionary. For instance, if the WYDOT employee would have typed “3555+,” it wouldn’t have posted because it’s not on the dictionary. But “355” is in WYDOT’s dictionary. It has to be: There are mile markers with that number, Cox said.
Cox told WYDOT employees to take caution in the future.
“I just sent out an email to make sure you pay attention and know the dictionary wouldn’t pick up on that kind of number,” he said.