The parent agency of the National Weather Service said late Friday that President Trump was correct when he claimed earlier this week that Hurricane Dorian had threatened the state of Alabama.
The surprise announcement in an unsigned statement by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) essentially endorsed Trump’s Sunday tweet saying that Alabama will “most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated.”
After the president’s tweet, the National Weather Service, in Birmingham, Ala., responded with its own tweet, saying “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane #Dorian will be felt across Alabama. The system will remain too far east.”
The NOAA statement takes the National Weather Service to task, declaring “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.”
The surprise statement on Friday has left meteorologists around the country baffled and upset.
“Some administrator, or someone at the top of NOAA, threw the National Weather Service under the bus,” Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami, told NPR.
“The part that really smells fishy is that this is five days after that tweet by Trump,” he added. “If the National Weather Service did issue a misleading or incorrect tweet, that would need to be amended or fixed in an hour or two.”
“I am very disappointed to see this statement come out from NOAA,” Oklahoma University meteorology professor Jason Furtado told The Associated Press. He said the controversy over the president’s tweets and the NOAA statement undermines public confidence in meteorologists.
Since his original tweet, Trump has re-visited the controversy almost every day this week, including displaying a doctored version of a map showing Hurricane Dorian’s projected path to include Alabama.
In fact, as NPR’s Brian Naylor reported, one National Hurricane Center map showed that Alabama could see tropical-force, not hurricane-class winds. Such winds range between 39-73 mph. That map also shows that there was only a 5 percent chance of such winds, below hurricane level, reaching Alabama.
Underlining the reaction by meteorologists to the escalating debate over the president’s claims is the fear that weather forecasting itself is becoming politicized.
“Hurricanes have never been a left or a right object,” said McNoldy. “And I hope they don’t become one.”