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The false report caused spotters to neglect looking for actual tornadoes or cloud rotation and instead try to verify false reports.
Information from the suspect also provided the final evidence for forecasters to declare about four other severe thunderstorm warnings in the Upper Midwest that a review deemed unwarranted, Schwein said.
Forecasters base such decisions on what they see on radar, information from trained spotters and their own expertise of certain conditions, Schwein said.
The public can use a form on local weather service Web pages to anonymously report conditions -- including damage from a storm -- so forecasters can alert others to impending problems, Schwein said.
Accurate information from the public can be useful to forecasters because trained spotters are not everywhere, said Ken Rizzo, chief meteorologist for the weather service in Sullivan, Wis.
"It can tip the scales one way or another as far as issuing a tornado warning or severe thunderstorm warning," Rizzo said.
"We have gotten some great information, some important information from there, and we don't want to turn it off," he said.
Jeff Lanza, a special FBI agent in charge of the investigation in Kansas City, said the effort to track down the source of bogus information to the weather service could be the first in the U.S. Providing false information to the federal government is punishable by up to five years in prison.
[Associated Press; article by Robert Imrie, Associated Press writer]
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