President Donald Trump and his administration are trying to ride out a political storm over Hurricane Dorian.
The latest development is a series of withering attacks against officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for siding with Trump and for contradicting local National Weather Service forecasters after the president, apparently using outdated information, warned that the hurricane was a serious threat to Alabama a week ago. Former NOAA officials said the agency’s leaders were jeopardizing the credibility of the nation’s weather and science agency and perhaps endangering lives.
“This rewriting history to satisfy an ego diminishes NOAA,” Elbert “Joe” Friday, former Republican-appointed director of the National Weather Service, wrote on Facebook. He also told the Associated Press on Saturday, “We don’t want to get [to] the point where science is determined by politics rather than science and facts. And I’m afraid this is an example where this is beginning to occur.”
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Jane Lubchenco, NOAA administrator for President Barack Obama, told AP, “It is truly sad to see political appointees undermining the superb, life-saving work of NOAA’s talented and dedicated career servants. Scientific integrity at a science agency matters.”
Retired Adm. David Titley, former NOAA operations chief and a former meteorology professor at Pennsylvania State University, said NOAA’s leadership is showing “moral cowardice” and he told AP those leaders should have resigned rather than issue the statement contradicting the Birmingham, Alabama, office of the weather service. Titley said Saturday it’s dangerous because mistrust of NOAA could cast doubt on the legitimacy of forecasts and discourage some Americans from evacuating endangered areas during storms.
“It makes me speechless that the leadership (of NOAA) would put [Trump’s] feelings and ego ahead of putting out weather information accurately,” Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Union of Concerned Scientists, told the Washington Post. “If we’re politicizing the weather, what is there left to politicize?”
Trump at first drew praise for postponing a trip to Poland in order to preside over the hurricane response. But he played fast and loose with the facts about the Alabama forecast, triggering a torrent of ridicule.
As the hurricane was threatening large parts of the East Coast, Trump warned that Alabama was among the states that “will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated.” This prompted the Birmingham forecasters to issue a statement that, “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian. … The system will remain too far east.” This assessment proved to be correct.
But an angry Trump then produced a map showing the hurricane’s predicted path that included what appeared to be a line drawn with a Sharpie pen indicating that the storm would hit a part of Alabama.
Information about who drew this map, who included the Sharpie line and when this map was issued were not released by the White House, according to AP.
Last Friday evening, NOAA, the weather service’s parent agency, issued a statement that supported Trump’s initial hurricane warning to Alabama and contradicted the local weather service.
It turns out that nearly a week before publicly backing the president’s version, NOAA had privately warned the agency’s staff not to contradict Trump and repeated a similar warning on Sept. 4, after Trump showed the faulty forecast map marked with a Sharpie pen to indicate that Alabama was in the danger zone, The Washington Post reported Sunday.