The head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spoke at a closed-door meeting for National Weather Association employees in Huntsville, Alabama on Tuesday, where he addressed the controversy over President Donald Trump’s claims about Hurricane Dorian threatening Alabama.
According to the Associated Press, NOAA acting administrator Neil Jacobs told the meteorology group that a NOAA statement Friday criticizing Birmingham’s local forecast office for contradicting Mr. Trump was meant to clarify “technical aspects” about Dorian’s potential impact. Jacobs told the group what the statement failed to mention was the “good intent” of the Birmingham office in trying to calm fears about Dorian hitting Alabama.
Jacobs recognized and thanked the Birmingham office of the National Weather Service. He appeared near tears at one point, the AP reported.
NOAA has come under intense criticism since it released a statement Friday chastising the Birmingham meteorologists who contradicted Mr. Trump’s tweet. NOAA’s own chief scientist said Monday he’s looking into agency’s statement as a potential violation of scientific integrity guidelines.
The controversy first erupted on Sunday, September 1, when Mr. Trump tweeted that Alabama could be impacted by Hurricane Dorian. “In addition to Florida — South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated,” he wrote.
The Birmingham office of the National Weather Service disputed that just minutes later, tweeting: “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane #Dorian will be felt across Alabama. The system will remain too far east.”
After President Trump dug in on his insistence that Alabama had been at risk, displaying a map in the Oval Office with a line drawn in to include the state, NOAA issued a statement backing him up — contradicting the agency’s own meteorologists.
“The Birmingham National Weather Service’s Sunday morning tweet spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time,” the statement said.
The National Weather Service Employees Organization pushed back, calling the NOAA statement “utterly disgusting and disingenuous.” And in a letter emailed to colleagues Monday, NOAA’s acting chief scientist, Craig McLean, called the agency’s statement “political” and a potential violation of scientific integrity rules.
McLean said the agency’s statement “inappropriately and incorrectly contradicted the NWS forecaster” for political, not scientific, reasons. That, he wrote, is “very concerning as it compromises the ability of NOAA to convey life-saving information necessary to avoid substantial and specific danger to public health and safety. If the public cannot trust our information, or we debase our forecaster’s warnings and products, that specific danger arises.”
On Tuesday, Jacobs sought to calm fears among National Weather Association employees. There were no demonstrations or protests during Jacobs’s speech and he received polite applause.
Kevin Laws, science and operations officer with the weather service office in Birmingham, said he appreciated the remarks by Jacobs, who he has known for 20 years.
“Absolutely no hard feelings,” Laws said.
-The Associated Press contributed reporting.
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