The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the federal agency that oversees the National Weather Service (NWS), reportedly warned staff against contradicting President Trump or providing “opinion” about Hurricane Dorian just hours after Trump erroneously claimed in a tweet that the storm may hit Alabama “much harder than anticipated.”
NOAA issued the directive to NWS personnel on Sept. 1, according to an email obtained by The Washington Post.
The email instructed employees to “stick with official National Hurricane Center forecasts if questions arise from some national level social media posts which hit the news this afternoon.”
The email also cautioned staff against providing “any opinion” when faced with questions about the hurricane.
A NOAA meteorologist who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution said the message was interpreted internally as a reference to the president’s comments.
The meteorologist explained that the memo was issued shortly after the National Weather Service office in Birmingham contradicted Trump by tweeting Alabama would “NOT see any impacts from the hurricane.”
“Alabama will NOT see any impacts from Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane Dorian will be felt across Alabama,” the NWS Birmingham office tweeted 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,” according to the newspaper.
“This is the first time I’ve felt pressure from above to not say what truly is the forecast,” the meteorologist said to the Post. “It’s hard for me to wrap my head around.”
The president spent the week insisting he was correct, despite the National Hurricane Center’s Hurricane Force Wind Probabilities graphic issued hours before Trump’s tweet showing Alabama had a zero percent probability of experiencing hurricane-force winds.
During a briefing on Dorian on Wednesday, Trump displayed an outdated forecast of the hurricane with a black extended into Alabama in marker in an apparent attempt to retroactively validate his Sunday tweet.
NOAA on Friday released an unattributed statement disavowing the NWS Birmingham tweet from Sunday, claiming that earlier forecasts showed a 5 to 10 percent chance of tropical storm force winds for parts of southeast Alabama and the Mobile area.
The statement sparked backlash from many quarters of the scientific community and within the NWS.
“Let me assure you the hard working employees of the NWS had nothing to do with the utterly disgusting and disingenuous tweet sent out by NOAA management tonight,” Dan Sobien, president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization, tweeted Friday.
Sobien also railed in a Daily Beast interview that NOAA threw its own NWS workers “under the bus” by giving Trump cover in his days-long claim that Alabama was forecast to get hit by Dorian.
“These are the people risking their lives flying into hurricanes and putting out forecasts that save lives. Never before has their management undercut their scientifically sound reasoning and forecasts,” Sobien told the outlet. “Are people not going to believe the Hurricane Center or our forecasts now?”
Ex-NOAA chief operating officer David Titley tweeted the agency’s stance 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 charged.
Monica Medina, who worked as NOAA’s general counsel, called “BS” on the agency’s statement in a tweet: “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.”