NOAA reportedly to investigate effort to bolster Trump

NOAA criticized over defense of Trump over Dorian claim on Alabama

WASHINGTON — The acting chief scientist at NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is conducting an investigation after a week that ended with the scientific agency issuing a statement that sought to bolster President Donald Trump’s erroneous claim that a recent hurricane posed a threat to the state of Alabama.

The development was reported Monday by both the Washington Post and the New York Times. 

The Commerce Department, which oversees NOAA, also denied reporting from the New York Times Monday that Secretary Wilbur Ross threatened to fire NOAA’s political appointees over a tweet from the Birmingham, Ala., station of the National Weather Service that contradicted Trump’s initial tweet on Sunday, Sept. 1.    

As Hurricane Dorian devastated the Bahamas and threatened parts of the United States, Trump held firm on his Sept. 1 claim that the storm would threaten Alabama, despite being contradicted by the National Weather Service on Sunday soon after his original tweet. Trump used an altered NOAA map of Hurricane Dorian’s path as a visual aid while speaking reporters in the Oval Office last week.

Then, an unsigned statement released by NOAA late Friday disavowed the Sept. 1 tweet by the Birmingham station of the National Weather Service that had sought to correct Trump’s claim.

“From Wednesday, August 28, through Monday, September 2, the information provided by NOAA and the National Hurricane Center to President Trump and the wider public demonstrated that tropical-storm-force winds from Hurricane Dorian could impact Alabama,” NOAA wrote in a statement Friday, that also pointed to a number of its advisories during that period. 

“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,” NOAA also said in the statement.

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“The NWS Forecaster(s) corrected any public misunderstanding in an expert and timely way, as they should,” NOAA’s Craig McLean wrote in an email to his agency colleagues Sunday, according to the Washington Post.“There followed, last Friday, an unsigned news release from ‘NOAA’ that inappropriately and incorrectly contradicted the NWS forecaster. My understanding is that this intervention to contradict the forecaster was not based on science but on external factors including reputation and appearance, or simply put, political.”

After pointing out how the episode raises questions about trust in the agency’s information, possible danger to the public as a result and the agency’s scientific integrity policy, he continued: “I have a responsibility to pursue these truths,” NOAA’s acting chief scientist also wrote. “I will.”

The New York Times also reported Monday that Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross threatened to fire top employees at NOAA after the NWS’s Birmingham station contradicted President Trump’s claim about Hurricane Dorian’s path and Alabama.

According to the Times, Ross confronted acting NOAA Administrator Neil Jacobs by phone, demanding the agency fix the contradiction of Trump. Jacobs refused the request and was told by Ross that top NOAA political appointees would be fired if difference with Trump’s claim was not rectified.

A Commerce Department spokesperson has denied the Times report in a statement provided to CNN.

“The New York Times story is false,” the spokesperson said. “Secretary Ross did not threaten to fire any NOAA staff over forecasting and public statements about Hurricane Dorian.”

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