The Slatest

NOAA Contradicts Weather Service, Backs Trump in Warning Dorian Could Impact Alabama

President Donald Trump references a map held by acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan while talking to reporters about Hurricane Dorian in the Oval Office at the White House September 4, 2019 in Washington, D.C.
President Donald Trump references a map held by acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan while talking to reporters about Hurricane Dorian in the Oval Office at the White House September 4, 2019 in Washington, D.C.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Donald Trump finally got his vindication. And it came courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the parent agency of the National Weather Service. In an unsigned statement issued late Friday, the NOAA pretty much backed President Donald Trump’s warning that Hurricane Dorian could affect Alabama. The statement said Trump had been given information “demonstrated that tropical-storm-force winds from Hurricane Dorian could impact Alabama,” reads the statement.

The statement came five days after Trump warned in a tweet that Alabama was “most likely to be hit (much) harder than anticipated,” along with South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia. Shortly after the president sent that message, the National Weather Service in Birmingham, Alabama took to Twitter to contradict him: “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane #Dorian will be felt across Alabama.”

Those messages launched what may very well be one of the silliest controversies of the Trump era as the president took his inability to admit a simple mistake to new heights. Trump proceeded to insist he was right and criticize the media outlets that dared question his tweet. And yes he went as far as to doctor a map with a sharpie to extend the range of the storm’s impact. And on Friday he got the support of the NOAA that not only backed the president but criticized the Birmingham National Weather Service because it “spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.” But the Birmingham office was hardly alone. NOAA spokesman Chris Vaccaro had also said Sunday that “the current forecast path of Dorian does not include Alabama.”

Many experts expressed disappointment with the NOAA statement, accusing the administration of using government resources for a silly political argument in what will ultimately undermine confidence in meteorologists. One of those who spoke up was Dan Sobien, president of the union representing weather service employees. “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,” he wrote on Twitter. Former National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read took to Facebook to criticize the NOAA leadership, saying he decided to speak up because employees were ordered to stay quiet:

Either NOAA Leadership truly agrees with what they posted or they were ordered to do it. If it is the former, the statement shows a lack of understanding of how to use probabilistic forecasts in conjunction with other forecast information. Embarrassing. If it is the latter, the statement shows a lack of courage on their part by not supporting the people in the field who are actually doing the work. Heartbreaking.

Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami, told NPR that “some administrator, or someone at the top of NOAA, threw the National Weather Service under the bus.” What is particularly strange is that if anyone at the NOAA disagreed with the tweet that was sent out by the Birmingham NWS office then it should have been corrected within hours, not five days, he added. Other meteorologists also said they were baffled by the statement.

Proving his sheer inability to let the issue go, Trump pinned a tweet with a doctored CNN clip showing a meteorologist saying Alabama was at risk from Dorian. The video is edited so that the meteorologists says “Alabama” 10 times. It then shows the CNN logo going down a road and eventually bursting into flames.