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Top NOAA Scientist Calls Out Agency for Backing Trump in Dumbest White House Controversy Ever

"This intervention to contradict the forecaster was not based on science but on external factors including reputation and appearance."

by Alex Lubben
10 September 2019, 7:10am

This article originally appeared on VICE US.

The top scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is reportedly calling out his own agency for its "political" statement backing the president’s claims about Hurricane Dorian.

Craig McLean, the acting chief scientist at NOAA, sent an email to staff calling the agency’s support of Trump’s tweets — that Dorian posed a threat to Alabama — “political” and warning that it “compromises the ability of NOAA to convey life-saving information,” according to the Washington Post. On Friday, the agency sided with the president over its own scientists in an unsigned press release that said Trump had been correct in the claim about Dorian’s path.

Scientists quickly shot back at NOAA. The agency is, after all, responsible for conveying accurate information to the public about weather events that pose serious threats.

The days-long drama began when, as Dorian was barreling toward the U.S. coastline, Trump tweeted Sept. 1 that the storm could pose a danger in Alabama. There was, at the time, a small chance that Dorian would bring tropical-storm force winds to the state, but scientists had said was no real chance of danger.

The National Weather Service office in Birmingham, Alabama, quickly corrected the president’s misstatement in a tweet, which didn’t directly name Trump but clarified that the storm posed no risk to the state.

Trump then, in an “update” from the Oval Office, presented a doctored map of the storm’s trajectory. He had apparently drawn on with a Sharpie in order to make it appear as though the storm was forecasted to hit Alabama. It didn’t end with that address: Trump kept harping on the false forecasts in tweets.

Nearly a week after the first tweet went out, NOAA sided with the president over its own scientists. It issued a press release that said that the president was correct in his assessment that the storm did pose a risk to Alabama, but also took the unusual step of criticizing the Birmingham National Weather Service, saying that the office “spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.”

The American Meteorological Society disagreed. “AMS believes the criticism of the Birmingham forecast office is unwarranted,” the organization said in a statement Saturday. “Rather they should have been commended for their quick action based on science in clearly communicating the lack of threat to the citizens of Alabama.”

The chief scientist at NOAA spoke out on in a Sunday email decrying Friday’s press release and siding with the Birmingham National Weather Service office.

“The NWS Forecaster(s) corrected any public misunderstanding in an expert and timely way, as they should,” McLean wrote in the email obtained by the Post. “There followed, last Friday, an unsigned press 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.”

“I have a responsibility to pursue these truths,” McLean added. “I will.”

Staff at NOAA, in the hours after Trump tweeted on Sept. 1 that the storm would hit Alabama, also reportedly received an email telling them not to contradict the president, according to the Washington Post.

The federal agencies responsible for providing the public with weather forecasts are forbidden by law from making any knowingly false weather report.

Cover: President Donald Trump talks with reporters after receiving a briefing on Hurricane Dorian in the Oval Office of the White House, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)