After President Donald Trump falsely claimed in a tweet that Hurricane Dorian would hit the state of Alabama “(much) harder than anticipated,” National Weather Service staff were directed not to contradict his assertion. In an agencywide directive, employees were instructed to “only stick with official National Hurricane Center forecasts if questions arise from some national level social media posts which hit the news this afternoon” and encouraged not to “provide any opinion,” according to an email obtained by the Washington Post.
An anonymous NOAA meteorologist told the Post that the directive was interpreted to be a reaction to a tweet sent by the National Weather Service’s office in Birmingham saying the president was incorrect.
“Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian,” NWS Birmingham said in the tweet. “We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane #Dorian will be felt across Alabama. The system will remain too far east.”
The meteorologist said this directive was the first of its kind he’d ever received. “This is the first time I’ve felt pressure from above to not say what truly is the forecast,” the meteorologist said. “It’s hard for me to wrap my head around. One of the things we train on is to dispel inaccurate rumors and ultimately that is what was occurring — ultimately what the Alabama office did is provide a forecast with their tweet, that is what they get paid to do.”
Another similar message was disseminated after the president held a press conference in the Oval Office displaying an altered map of the hurricane’s path drawn on the official August 29 forecast with a black permanent marker.
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A NWS spokesperson told the Post that “NWS leadership sent this guidance to field staff so they (and the entire agency) could maintain operational focus on Dorian and other severe weather hazards without distraction.”
Later that week, on Friday, NOAA issued a public statement supporting the president’s claim about Alabama and scolding the Birmingham office. “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.
According to Jane Lubchenco, Obama’s NOAA administrator, the agency is acting to help the president save face rather than focusing on providing accurate information.
“This looks like classic politically motivated obfuscation to justify inaccurate statements made by the boss,” she said. “It is truly sad to see political appointees undermining the superb, lifesaving work of NOAA’s talented and dedicated career servants.”