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Before Alabama Controversy, NOAA Staff Had Been Warned

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told staff not to contradict Trump
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 8, 2019 5:02 PM CDT
Updated Sep 9, 2019 1:03 AM CDT
President Donald Trump talks with reporters after receiving a briefing on Hurricane Dorian in the Oval Office of the White House, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019, in Washington.   (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

(Newser) – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Friday issued a statement backing President Trump's claim, nearly a week prior, that Alabama faced serious risk from Hurricane Dorian. NOAA's support of Trump was a head-scratcher, because the National Weather Service (a NOAA agency) had quickly refuted Trump's claim via one of its regional offices, and forecasts had Alabama out of harm's way prior to Trump's claim last Sunday that the state could be hit hard. Now the Washington Post has more on how, exactly, NOAA came to be so enmeshed in the controversy: An anonymous NOAA meteorologist says that hours after Trump's original statement last Sunday, and soon after the Birmingham NWS office had shot down his claims, NOAA sent out an agencywide directive that apparently warned staff not to contradict the president.

Specifically, staff was instructed 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" and to not "provide any opinion." A similar message was sent out by NOAA on Wednesday, after Trump doubled down on his Alabama claim and showed an Aug. 29 hurricane map that had apparently been modified with black Sharpie marker to include Alabama. "This is the first time I’ve felt pressure from above to not say what truly is the forecast," the meteorologist tells the Post. "One of the things we train on is to dispel inaccurate rumors and ultimately that is what was occurring" with the incorrect Alabama information. NOAA's public backing of Trump Friday was proving controversial among scientists, the AP reports; former top NOAA officials from both sides of the political aisle are among those decrying the agency for risking its own credibility and perhaps even endangering lives. Meanwhile, Trump tweeted a bizarre cat video Saturday night in what Slate notes was an apparent attempt to mock CNN for its continuing coverage of "Sharpiegate." (Read more Hurricane Dorian stories.)

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