WASHINGTON – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is facing fierce criticism from former officials after the agency issued a statement that defended President Donald Trump and assailed weather scientists.
It’s just the latest development in Trump’s week-long quest to prove he was correct about false statements he made about Hurricane Dorian’s path.
Meanwhile, the death toll from the storm has continued to mount. Forty-three people have been killed by the storm in the Bahamas and that number is expected to rise.
Former top officials with NOAA spent Saturday criticizing the agency after its statement defended Trump, who claimed that Alabama would be impacted by the storm despite new tracks that would keep it far from the state. The statement also assailed the National Weather Service in Alabama, which appeared to correct the president earlier in the week.
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The statement from NOAA came after Trump faced blowback for suggesting in a tweet on Sunday that Alabama residents should prepare for the storm. At that point, forecasters had already predicted that the storm would turn sharply north.
The Birmingham, Ala., National Weather Service branch appeared to correct him on Twitter later that day, saying “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian.”
“Information provided by NOAA and the National Hurricane Center to President Trump and the wider public demonstrated that tropical-storm-force winds from Hurrican Dorian could impact Alabama,” the Friday statement read, adding that National Weather Service tweet “spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.”
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Former officials at NOAA called the statement dangerous and an attempt to politicize weather forecasts.
Monica Medina, a former top official at NOAA who served in the administrations of former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clintons, said the statement “will make us less safe as a country.”
“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,” she wrote on Twitter.
Bill Read, who became director of the National Hurricane Center director during the Republican George W. Bush administration, said on Facebook the NOAA statement showed either an embarrassing lack of understanding of forecasting or “a lack of courage on their part by not supporting the people in the field who are actually doing the work. Heartbreaking.”
And Justin Kenney, who headed the agency’s communications in the Obama administration, said “by politicizing weather forecasts, the president … puts more people — including first responders — in harm’s way.”
A retired chief of the center’s hurricane forecasting desk, James Franklin, said on Twitter that the NOAA statement had thrown the Birmingham office “under the bus” — a phrase several ex-officials used. He said the Birmingham office’s tweet was “spot-on and an appropriate response to the President’s misleading tweet that morning.”
Dan Sobien, president of the National Weather Service’s labor union, said on Twitter that the statement was “just disgusting.”
“I have never been so embarrassed by NOAA,” he wrote, adding in another post that “the hard working employees of the (National Weather Service) had nothing to do with the utterly disgusting and disingenuous tweet sent out by NOAA management.”
Throughout the week, Trump has continued to insist he was correct that the storm would affect Alabama. He has railed about the subject on Twitter day after day and even made it a topic of discussion during an Oval Office briefing on the storm, during which he held up an altered map of Dorian’s forecasted path – a black semi-circle added onto the original path with what appeared to be a black Sharpie marker.
The president has pointed to maps on Aug. 29 and 30, which showed Alabama would be affected. But Trump’s tweet about the threat to the state was on Sunday, Sept. 1, by which time maps showed that the storm had changed course.
On Saturday, the president wrote on Twitter that he wanted to move on from the story but blamed the media for continuing to bring it up.
“I would like very much to stop referring to this ridiculous story, but the LameStream Media just won’t let it alone,” Trump said. “They always have to have the last word.”
Earlier this week, the White House also released a statement from a homeland security adviser who said he briefed President Donald Trump about the possibility of heavy winds in Alabama from the storm hours before the president warned the state about rough weather.
“The president’s comments were based on that morning’s Hurricane Dorian briefing, which included the possibility of tropical storm force winds in southeastern Alabama,” homeland security and counter-terrorism adviser Peter Brown wrote in the statement.
Contributing: John Fritze, David Jackson and Jeanine Santucci; Associated Press