A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) statement affirming President Trump‘s remarks over the threat of Hurricane Dorian to Alabama is drawing sharp backlash from meteorologists and former officials.
Several former officials have accused the administration of caving to political pressure after NOAA disavowed a days-old tweet from the National Weather Service (NWS) that refuted Trump’s claim about the storm’s path.
Trump spent several days defending himself while criticizing pushback from the media and meteorologists who questioned his claim while noting that numerous projections showed the storm tracking farther east.
Former NOAA Chief Operating Officer David Titley blasted the NOAA statement, saying it represented “perhaps the darkest day ever for @noaa leadership.”
“Don’t know how they will ever look their workforce in the eye again. Moral cowardice,” he tweeted.
Monica Medina, who worked as NOAA’s general counsel, tweeted Friday, “As a former @NOAA leader I can say two things with certainty. No NOAA Administrator I worked for would have done this. And I would have quit if I had been directed to agree to let this BS go out.”
Dan Sobien, head of the National Weather Service Employees Organization, which represents thousands of workers under NOAA, said federal workers were “shocked, stunned and irate” with NOAA siding with Trump.
Sobien told The Daily Beast in an interview that “never ever before has their management thrown [employees] under the bus like this.”
The statement also drew scrutiny from meteorologists who said the initial tweet from the National Weather Service in Alabama was accurate.
“The tweet from NWS Birmingham was spot on and accurate,” Birmingham-based meteorologist James Spann Jr. tweeted. “If they are coming after them, they might as well come after me. How in the world has it come to this?”
Meteorologist Ryan Maue, meanwhile, accused NOAA of “throwing your ‘Alabama’ NWS office under the bus,” adding that there was “nothing wrong” with the Birmingham NWS’s tweet.
Al Roker, weather anchor for NBC’s “Today Show,” offered more restrained criticism, tweeting, “The @nwsand @NOAA has always been above politics and about presenting fact and information. Whether it’s a hurricane forecast or reports based on science about #ClimateChange America and the world have always trusted these organizations and nothing should be done to change that.”
Nearly a week before the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration publicly backed President Trump over its own scientists, a top NOAA official warned its staff against contradicting the president.
In an agencywide directive sent Sept. 1 to National Weather Service personnel,hoursafter Trump asserted, with no evidence, that Alabama “would most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated,” staff was told to “only stick with official National Hurricane Center forecasts if questions arise from some national level social media posts which hit the news this afternoon.”
They were also told not to “provide any opinion,” according to a copy of the email obtained by The Washington Post.
A NOAA meteorologist who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution said the note, understood internally to be referring to Trump, came after the National Weather Service office in Birmingham contradicted Trump by tweeting Alabama would “NOT see any impacts from the hurricane.”
The Birmingham office sent the tweet after receiving a flurry of phone calls from concerned residents following Trump’s message.
The agency sent a similar message warning scientists and meteorologists not to speak out on Sept. 4, after Trump showed a hurricane map from Aug. 29 modified with a hand-drawn, half-circle in black Sharpie around Alabama.
“This is the first time I’ve felt pressure from above to not say what truly is the forecast,” the meteorologist said. “It’s hard for me to wrap my head around. One of the things we train on is to dispel inaccurate rumors and ultimately that is what was occurring — ultimately what the Alabama office did is provide a forecast with their tweet, that is what they get paid to do.”
Late Friday afternoon, NOAA officials further angered scientists within and beyond the agency by releasing a statement, attributed to an unnamed agency spokesperson, supporting Trump’s claims on Alabama and chastising the agency’s Birmingham meteorologists for speaking in absolutes.