The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is getting underway with the country’s weather forecast agency in an unfamiliar situation. Facing what it expects to be an unusually active season, with between 13 to 19 named storms, forecasters at the National Weather Service will have to contend with lingering questions about their ability to operate independently after political interference from the White House during 2019′s Hurricane Dorian.
Monday brought the release of hundreds of emails that The Washington Post and other media outlets had requested from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — NWS’s parent agency, under the Freedom of Information Act. The records request is related to President Trump’s erroneous tweet about the hurricane and efforts to retroactively justify it. This latest release, the seventh since the dust-up shined a spotlight on the politicization of weather forecasts, shows concerned citizens and NOAA constituents writing scathing emails of concern to the agency’s leaders in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane’s assault on the Bahamas and the southeastern United States.
Many of the emails excoriate NOAA’s leaders for issuing an unsigned statement Sept. 6, which backed up an inaccurate assertion from President Trump days earlier that Alabama “will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated” by the Category 5 storm.
That statement criticized the National Weather Service forecast office in Birmingham for a tweet that contradicted Trump’s claims by definitively stating that the storm posed no threat to the state. By issuing that tweet, meteorologists in Birmingham were responding to a flood of calls from residents expressing concern about the storm. It was only later that they found out the source of the fears stemmed from a tweet from the president.
The NOAA statement was widely interpreted within its National Weather Service as contradicting an accurate forecast because of political pressure from the White House and the Commerce Department. The Post has reported that the demand for NOAA to issue the statement came from then-acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, at the request of the president, via officials at the Commerce Department.