The first alerts of severe weather blared across millions of phones at 8:41 p.m. that night when the National Weather Service warned of dangerous flash flooding from the looming storm. Officials would issue three more alerts, late into the night, urging people to immediately head for higher ground and to stay out of rising floodwaters.
The night was filled with alerts from numerous apps, prompting many to wonder if the threat was too overwhelming.
Experts call it "warning fatigue," and no one can be sure what role it might have played in a tragedy that killed scores of people across the Northeast, including more than two dozen in New Jersey and at least 11 in New York City -- many drowning in their basement apartments or in cars trapped in submerged roadways.
The weather service admitted that alerts had been pushed too often in the past. There has been much debate about how to make warnings more relevant.
Ross Dickman, the New York meteorologist responsible for the National Weather Service's New York forecasts, stated that either they don’t believe the information they hear -- they can’t verify it -- or that there is another reason completely beyond their control.
He said that it was up to the individual to decide. However, he added that he believes that more research is needed to understand why people make decisions when they get information. This will help them to understand the consequences.
In some cases, people tried to flee too late and became trapped by floodwaters gushing so quickly, and with such force, that they could not open their doors to escape. Some people might not have known that flash flooding can also make roads impassable.
The federal weather service revised its criteria for issuing alerts last year. It was concerned that it may have been overusing Wireless Emergency Alert System, which was first launched in 2012 and broadcasts emergency warnings to more then 300 million mobile devices.