The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s acting chief scientist said in an email to colleagues Sunday that he is investigating whether the agency’s response to President Trump’s Hurricane Dorian tweets constituted a violation of NOAA policies and ethics. Also on Monday, the director of the National Weather Service broke with NOAA leadership over its handling of Trump’s Dorian tweets and statements.
In an email to NOAA staff that was obtained by The Washington Post, NOAA’s Craig McLean, called the agency’s response “political” and a “danger to public health and safety.”
NOAA officials caused an internal uproar on Sept. 6 when the agency issued an unsigned statement that defended Trump’s false claim about Alabama and admonished the Weather Service’s Birmingham division for speaking “in absolute terms.”
According to emails obtained by The Post, before the statement on Friday, NOAA staff 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 not to “provide any opinion” in response to Trump’s initial Alabama tweets.
The agency sent a similar message warning scientists and meteorologists not to speak out on Sept. 4, after Trump showed a hurricane map from Aug. 29 modified with a hand-drawn half-circle in black Sharpie around Alabama.
In his email to employees Sunday, McLean criticized his agency’s public statement, saying it prioritized politics over NOAA’s mission.
“The NWS Forecaster(s) corrected any public misunderstanding in an expert and timely way, as they should,” McLean wrote. “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.”
He also wrote that “the content of this news release is very concerning as it compromises the ability of NOAA to convey life-saving information necessary to avoid substantial and specific danger to public health and safety."
“If the public cannot trust our information, or we debase our forecaster’s warnings and products, that specific danger arises,” McLean wrote.
As a result, McLean told his staff that “I am pursuing the potential violations of our NOAA Administrative Order on Scientific Integrity."
Also on Monday, National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini got a standing ovation at a major weather industry conference in Huntsville, Ala., when he broke with his bosses at NOAA by enthusiastically backing his agency’s forecasters regarding their performance during Hurricane Dorian.
Uccellini, who has been part of NWS since 1989, praised Birmingham’s NWS office for clarifying that there was no threat to the region and upholding “the integrity of the forecasting process.”