Hurricane Dorian is now dissipating over the North Atlantic—but the political storm that began with President Trump's incorrect claim that the hurricane was expected to hit Alabama is still with us. Sources tell the New York Times that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross threatened to fire senior National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration employees after the agency's National Weather Service office in Birmingham contradicted Trump's claim. The NOAA is part of the Department of Commerce, and insiders say that the threat from Ross led to the agency issuing a statement Friday supporting Trump's statements. Dan Sobien, head of the NWS Employees Organization, called the NOAA's reversal "utterly disgusting and disingenuous." On Wednesday, Trump displayed a hurricane map that had been altered with a marker to include Alabama.
A Commerce Department spokesman denied that Ross had threatened "to fire any NOAA staff over forecasting and public statements about Hurricane Dorian," though he declined to comment on whether Ross had ordered the agency to put out a statement siding with Trump. The Times reports that the department's own Office of Inspector General is now investigating whether the Friday statement broke any departmental rules. Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune called for Ross to resign, dubbing the alleged intervention a "shameless abuse of power" that could have "devastating results now and in the future," the Guardian reports. (Insiders say that after the Birmingham office rejected Trump's claim, an agency-wide directive was sent out warning staff not to contradict the president.)