Jul 9, 2020 - Politics & Policy

IG: NOAA hurt public trust by backing Trump's Hurricane Dorian claims

President Trump during a briefing on the status of Hurricane Dorian in September 2019.

President Trump during a briefing on the status of Hurricane Dorian in September 2019. Photo: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The Commerce Department inspector general released a report Thursday detailing how the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) defended President Trump's erroneous claims that last September's Hurricane Dorian would severely impact Alabama, the Washington Post reports.

Why it matters: The report found that pressure from the White House resulted in NOAA releasing an unsigned statement that confirmed the president's claim that Alabama was in the storm's path.

  • Though the IG concluded that NOAA's statement damaged its reputation and eroded public trust in the agency, the report provided no recommendations for punishing officials and did not propose specific policy changes.

Background: Trump said Alabama was threatened by the hurricane and later defended the claim with a doctored version of an official National Hurricane Center map illustrating Hurricane Dorian's path that appeared to show Alabama in the eye of the storm.

  • The Birmingham office of the National Weather Service debunked the president's assertion at the time, but NOAA said in a Sept. 6, 2019 statement that the Birmingham office's post was “inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.”

What they're saying: “The broader, longer-term consequence is that NOAA’s rebuke of the NWS Birmingham office could have a chilling effect on NWS forecasters’ future public safety messages, as well as undercut public trust in NWS forecasts,” the report noted, per the Post.

  • “The Department’s and NOAA’s actions, in the words of one senior NOAA official, 'hit at the core' of NOAA,” the report concludes. “The Statement undercut the NWS’s forecasts and potentially undercut public trust in NOAA’s and the NWS’s science and the apolitical nature of that science.”
  • Craig McLean, then NOAA's acting chief scientist, said in a letter at the time that NOAA's "intervention to contradict" the Birmingham office's assertion on Dorian "was not based on science" and "simply put, political."

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