Trump’s Dorian Forecast Leads to Dispute Within Weather Agency

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September 9, 2019

U.S. President Donald Trump holds up a hurricane track chart with Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan as he talks to reporters during a status report meeting on Hurricane Dorian in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., September 4, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

(Bloomberg) –As President Donald Trump dragged the brawl over his forecast for Hurricane Dorian into a sixth day on Friday, a U.S. agency released a statement bolstering his account — prompting a scathing response from the leader of an agency union.

Trump has repeatedly and defiantly continued to defend his assertion that Alabama was in Dorian’s path. On Wednesday, he showed White House reporters a map that he had personally altered — by drawing a black line with a marker — to bolster his argument. On Thursday, he tweeted photos of Aug. 29 and Aug. 30 forecasts that showed Alabama within the probability zone of tropical storm-force winds. And on Friday, he released a video on Twitter.

Donald Trump held up an Aug. 29 map from the National Weather Service, showing initial projections of Dorian’s track into Florida, at the Oval Office on Sept. 4.

“From Wednesday, Aug. 28, through Monday, Sept. 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,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in its statement on Friday.

“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 added in the statement, which was not attributed to any official.

Earlier: Trump Altered Dorian Map to Show Storm Threatened Alabama

The weather service’s office in Birmingham, Alabama, had said in a tweet on Sunday that “no impacts from Hurricane Dorian will be felt across Alabama,” contradicting the president, who has persisted in arguing that his warning had been accurate.

On Friday night, Dan Sobien, the president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization, tweeted: “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.”

In a telephone interview, Sobien said that the statement was “like nothing I’ve ever seen, ever,” and could prompt people to ignore future warnings. “I can’t think of another word for it other than managerial malpractice,” he said.

“NOAA needs to withdraw the statement,” he added, “they need to apologize to their employees and they need to go out and do a serious public relations campaign to try to renew the confidence of the American public in the National Weather Service.”

He said that members of his union at the National Hurricane Center had “issued phenomenal forecasts” that saved lives, and “my goal is to make sure that the next storm that comes along, the next tornado, the next hurricane, the next flood, people heed the warnings of the National Weather Service.”

Retired Rear Adm. David Titley, NOAA’s chief operating officer during the Obama administration, called the release of NOAA’s statement “perhaps the darkest day ever for” the agency’s leaders and “moral cowardice” in Twitter messages on Friday.

Trump repeatedly claimed on Sunday that Alabama was in Dorian’s path — he tweeted it, repeated it at the White House, and said it again during a visit to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. By then, however, the storm’s track had turned decidedly north and east.

During the Wednesday briefing on the storm in the Oval Office, the president held up an Aug. 29 map from the National Weather Service showing initial projections of Dorian’s track into Florida. But the map had been changed — by the president — with a black line that extended the storm’s path beyond Florida and into southern Alabama, according to people familiar with the matter.

Trump said later on Wednesday that he didn’t know the six-day-old map had been altered.

His campaign seized on the controversy as a fund-raising tool. Trump’s website offered “Official Donald J. Trump Fine Point Markers” along with items such as plastic straws — a dig at environmentalists who prefer paper straws — and “Make America Great Again” red caps.

Update: One of NOAA’s top scientists is even now chiming in on the matter. On Monday, the Washington Post reported that Craig McLean, Acting Chief Scientist at NOAA, sent an email to employees calling the agency’s support of Trump’s tweets “political,” and warning that it “compromises the ability of NOAA to convey life-saving information.”

“I am pursuing the potential violations of our NOAA Administrative Order on Scientific Integrity,” McLean wrote, according to the Washington Post report.

–With assistance from Jennifer Jacobs and Maria Jose Valero.

© 2019 Bloomberg L.P.
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