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Hurricane Florence makes landfall in North Carolina in 2018. Image: NOAA via Getty Images

Tim Gallaudet, the acting administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), was suddenly replaced on Monday by the No. 3 official at the agency, former weather industry scientist Neil A. Jacobs.

Why it matters: The agency has been operating without a Senate-confirmed administrator for the longest time since it was created in 1970. Gallaudet, a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral, had earned plaudits for advancing the agency's priorities in ocean and atmospheric sciences without succumbing to political interference with climate research, as other agencies have during the Trump administration.

  • NOAA is responsible for regulating fisheries, forecasting the weather, and studying oceans and climate. It is perhaps best known for the National Weather Service and its hurricane hunter aircraft.

Details: An email went out to NOAA employees on Monday to announce the leadership swap, stating that it was ordered by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. It gave no reason for the change, however.

"Today, Commerce Secretary Ross asked me to perform the nonexclusive functions and duties of Under Secretary and NOAA Administrator. As Senate confirmed Assistant Secretaries, I will continue to serve as the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction, while Admiral Gallaudet will continue to serve as the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere."
"In no way will this impact our mission or shift our priorities."

The all-staff email said that Gallaudet will now focus his time on oceans issues, taking him out of a climate communications role.

  • A NOAA spokesperson tells Axios the switch is a "natural shift that occurs in agencies and departments over time. Both leaders are dedicated professionals who believe in the people, science and missions at NOAA. The agency's important work on behalf of the American people and businesses will occur seamlessly into the future."

Between the lines: NOAA gave little notice to its overseers on Capitol Hill, with Sen. Maria Cantwell, the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, only receiving word an hour before the move was announced.

  • Gallaudet made news in December when, under repeated climate change-related questioning from reporters at a science conference, admitted that he has never briefed President Trump on the issue, despite the agency's role as a major scientific research entity that funds and conducts climate studies.

Why you'll hear more about this: The Trump administration has nominated Barry Myers, the former CEO of the private weather forecasting company AccuWeather, to serve as NOAA administrator.

  • The Senate has not voted on the nomination, in part due to concerns over conflicts of interest stemming from his business career and investments.
  • Myers resigned from AccuWeather and divested his interests in the company in January. However, his brother continues to lead the company.

My thought bubble: The elevation of Jacobs, who previously ran weather programs at Panasonic Avionics, could position the administration to pull Myers' nomination if opposition is too strong to overcome.

Go deeper: Rapid global warming is bringing unprecedented changes to Arctic

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus cases rose 10% in the week before Thanksgiving.
  2. Politics: Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York coronavirus restrictions.
  3. World: Expert says COVID vaccine likely won't be available in Africa until Q2 of 2021 — Europeans extend lockdowns.
  4. Economy: The winners and losers of the COVID holiday season.
  5. Education: National standardized tests delayed until 2022.
3 hours ago - Health

Standardized testing becomes another pandemic victim

Photo: Edmund D. Fountain for The Washington Post via Getty

National standardized reading and math tests have been pushed from next year to 2022, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) announced Wednesday.

Why it matters: There’s mounting national evidence that students are suffering major setbacks this year, with a surge in the number of failing grades.

4 hours ago - World

European countries extend lockdowns

A medical worker takes a COVID-19 throat swab sample at the Berlin-Brandenburg Airport. Photo by Maja Hitij via Getty

Recent spikes in COVID-19 infections across Europe have led authorities to extend restrictions ahead of the holiday season.

Why it matters: "Relaxing too fast and too much is a risk for a third wave after Christmas," said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

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