NOAA Chief Defends Controversial Statement On Alabama

Clay Curtis
September 11, 2019

The impetus for the reprimand might have come from high in the Trump administration: The New York Times on Monday reported that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who heads the department responsible for NOAA, threatened to fire agency officials after the Birmingham office contradicted the president.

Trump persisted in saying that Alabama was at risk, and a few days later, on September 4, he displayed a NOAA map that appeared to have been altered with a black Sharpie to include Alabama in the area potentially affected by Dorian.

Jacobs told the group what the statement failed to mention was the "good intent" of the Birmingham office in trying to calm fears and rumors about Dorian hitting Alabama.

"I haven't heard that yet but I am sure if they did, I will", he said.

The world's largest general science society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, on Tuesday said weather forecasters should not be "asked to change a weather forecast in reaction to any political pressure".

Jacobs said Dorian presented forecasters with a "particularly difficult" challenge and noted that, "at one point, Alabama was in the mix, as was the rest of the Southeast".

Elbert Friday, the former director of the National Weather Service, went even further, calling the unsigned statement "deplorable" in a public statement on Facebook: "This rewriting history to satisfy an ego diminishes NOAA".

The claim was countered by the National Weather Service Birmingham, which tweeted out an emphatic correction: "Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian".

Craig McLean told NOAA staff that the agency's decision to contradict the National Weather Service (NWS)-which corrected the president's erroneous assertion just 20 minutes after he first tweeted it last Sunday-was "political", a "danger to public safety", and possibly a violation of NOAA's ethics rules. No one's job is under threat. "If we are going to be analyzing forecast output, we need somebody there who understands how to interpret it".

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Also on Tuesday, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, said that her committee is actively pursuing the Dorian forecast uproar.

Another Democratic lawmaker, Jim Himes of CT, told CNN if the report is true "that would be the most blatant use of an official position in the service of the ego and the political fortunes of the president that we have ever seen".

The Department of Commerce denied the truth of the report in a statement to the Times. I would remind Department employees of the whistleblower protections afforded them by law.

After President Trump dug in on his insistence that Alabama had been at risk, displaying a map in the Oval Office with a line drawn in to include the state, NOAA issued a statement backing him up - contradicting the agency's own meteorologists.

It pointed to advisory maps that appears to show between a 5 and 20 percent chance of tropical storm-force winds hitting a portion of Alabama at some point between August 25 and 30. "This statement violates NOAA's internal scientific integrity order", Shaheen wrote in a letter.

McLean's email to NOAA employees Sunday made clear that the acting head of the agency believed the agency's response was politically motivated and antithetical to its mission.

Democratic Reps. Don Beyer of Virginia, Paul Tonko of NY and Jim Himes of CT on Monday demanded that Ross step down.

Alabama's two Democratic members of Congress, Rep. Terri Sewell of Birmingham and Sen.

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