Sep 9, 2019

NOAA's top scientist will investigate why agency backed Trump's Alabama Dorian claims

The map shown by President Trump during a Sept. 4 Oval Office briefing last week was a forecast from Aug. 29 and appears to have been altered by a black marker to extend the hurricane's range to include Alabama. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s acting chief scientist says he will investigate if the agency's response to President Trump’s repeated claims that Alabama was at risk from Hurricane Dorian violated its policies and ethics, according to an email obtained by the Washington Post.

The big picture: The agency received backlash from scientists when it issued an unsigned statement that defended Trump's weeklong insistence that he was correct about the storm threatening Alabama. It also rebuked the National Weather Service’s Birmingham division for correcting the president and speaking "in absolute terms."

What he's saying: Craig McLean, NOAA's acting chief scientist, called the response "political" and a "danger to public health and safety" in the email obtained by the Post.

  • "My understanding is that this intervention to contradict the forecaster was not based on science but on external factors including reputation and appearance, or simply put, political."
  • "If the public cannot trust our information, or we debase our forecaster’s warnings and products, that specific danger arises."

Go deeper ... NOAA: 20% chance Alabama could have felt Dorian's winds

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Read: NOAA's top scientist condemns "political" statement backing Trump

Trump considers a NOAA map on Sept. 4 that appears to be altered by a black marker to extend the hurricane's range to include Alabama. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

In a letter released Tuesday, NOAA's acting chief scientist Craig McLean condemned an unsigned NOAA statement from last Friday that supported President Trump's incorrect claim that Hurricane Dorian would threaten Alabama.

The big picture: McLean said that NOAA's "intervention to contradict" the Birmingham office's assertion that Dorian would not impact Alabama "was not based on science" and was "simply put, political." On Monday, the New York Times reported that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross threatened to fire top NOAA officials for contradicting Trump. McLean plans to investigate if the agency's statement violated its policies and ethics.

NYT: Wilbur Ross threatened NOAA firings after Trump hurricane contradiction

Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross threatened to fire top National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) officials following a tweet from the agency's Birmingham office that rebutted President Trump's claim that Hurricane Dorian would hit Alabama, the New York Times reports.

Context: Trump's incorrect tweet last week that Hurricane Dorian was projected to hit Alabama prompted NOAA's Birmingham office to tweet shortly after that "no impacts from Hurricane Dorian [would] be felt across Alabama." The rebuttal set off days of defensive tweets from Trump arguing that he was correct.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Sep 9, 2019

NOAA chief: Weather should not be a partisan issue

Trump gives an Oval Office briefing on the status of Hurricane Dorian, Sept. 4. Photo: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

NOAA acting administrator Neil Jacobs on Tuesday both defended the Trump administration and thanked forecasters who contradicted the president’s claims about Hurricane Dorian threatening Alabama, AP and the Washington Post report.

Why it matters: Per AP, meteorologists have been concerned that NOAA had risked the credibility of the U.S. weather and science agency, and perhaps even lives, by issuing an unsigned statement Friday supporting President Trump's claim, after the National Weather Service's Birmingham office tweeted that Alabama would not be impacted.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Sep 11, 2019