The acting chief scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Sunday said he was opening an investigation into the agency’s response to President Donald Trump’s Hurricane Dorian forecasts.
According to an email from chief scientist Craig McLean obtained by the Washington Post, the agency’s attempt to vindicate the President’s incorrect assertions, which McLean characterized as, “political” and a “danger to public health and safety,” may have constituted a violation of NOAA policies and ethics.
President Trump on September 1, tweeted that the state of Alabama would likely be hit by the incoming storm, a prediction that did not align with any recent forecasts from the government or other weather services.
“In addition to Florida – South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated. Looking like one of the largest hurricanes ever. Already category 5. BE CAREFUL! GOD BLESS EVERYONE!,” Trump tweeted.
The National Weather Service’s (NWS) Alabama division corrected the president just minutes later, tweeting: “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from [Hurricane Dorian]. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane [Hurricane Dorian] will be felt across Alabama. The system will remain too far east.”
Over the ensuing week, President Trump staunchly defended his initial tweet that Alabama was forecasted to be hit by Dorian, even going so far as to present a National Hurricane Center map of the storm’s predicted path which had apparently been augmented with a black sharpie marker to include Alabama in its trajectory.
The black outlined area on this very outdated @NHC_Atlantic #Dorian graphic that Trump just used in his update was added and not a part of the official forecast. @WhiteHouse pic.twitter.com/XMQmepPyj6
— Kait Parker (@WeatherKait) September 4, 2019
The controversy culminated on September 6, when NOAA officials released an unsigned statement defending the president’s initial claims as being correct, and rebuked the NWS for correcting the president.
“From Wednesday, August 28, through Monday, September 2, the information provided by NOAA and the National Hurricane Center to President Trump and the wider public demonstrated that tropical-storm-force winds from Hurricane Dorian could impact Alabama. This is clearly demonstrated in Hurricane Advisories #15 through #41,” the statement said.
“The Birmingham National Weather Service’s Sunday morning tweet spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.”
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.
“The NWS Forecaster(s) corrected any public misunderstanding in an expert and timely way, as they should,” McLean wrote.
“There followed, last Friday, an unsigned press release from ‘NOAA’ that inappropriately and incorrectly contradicted the NWS forecaster. 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.”
McLean also characterized the unsigned statement as “very concerning,” writing that it “compromises the ability of NOAA to convey life-saving information necessary to avoid substantial and specific danger to public health and safety,” adding “I have a responsibility to pursue these truths.”
[image via YouTube screengrab]