NOAA staff was warned against providing 'opinion' about Dorian after Trump comments: report

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reportedly warned its staff against providing information beyond official forecasts just hours after President TrumpDonald John TrumpDem senator says Zelensky was 'feeling the pressure' to probe Bidens 2020 Dems slam Trump decision on West Bank settlements Trump calls latest impeachment hearings 'a great day for Republicans' MORE claimed in a tweet that Alabama could be impacted by Hurricane Dorian.

The agency issued the directive on Sept. 1, according to an email obtained by The Washington Post

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The email, which was sent to National Weather Service (NWS) personnel, told employees to "stick with official National Hurricane Center forecasts if questions arise from some national level social media posts which hit the news this afternoon."

The Post noted that the email also cautioned staff against providing "any opinion" when faced with questions about the hurricane. 

A NOAA meteorologist told the newspaper that the message was interpreted internally as a reference to the president's comments. Shortly after Trump said Dorian could reach Alabama, the National Weather Service's Birmingham branch emphasized in a tweet that the state would not be affected by the storm. 

NOAA reportedly sent a similar message after Trump showed off a map that appeared to alter Dorian's original path projection with a marker.  

“This is the first time I’ve felt pressure from above to not say what truly is the forecast,” the meteorologist said to the Post. “It’s hard for me to wrap my head around."

A National Weather Service spokesperson told The Hill that the directive was sent as part of an effort to avoid distractions. 

"NWS leadership sent guidance to field staff so they (and the entire agency) could maintain operational focus on Dorian and other severe weather hazards without distraction. The guidance made no reference to the president," the spokesperson said in a statement. 

An anonymous NOAA official told the Post that there was no "political motivation" behind the statement. Acting NOAA Administrator Neil Jacobs and NOAA Director of Public Affairs Julie Kay Roberts were reportedly involved in writing the statement. Commerce Department leadership ultimately approved its release, the Post reported. 

NOAA did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill. 

Trump faced widespread pushback last week after stating that Alabama would potentially feel the effects of Dorian. The president continued to defend his statement throughout the week and at one point displayed a map in the Oval Office that appeared to show a marker-drawn addition to indicate that the hurricane would hit the southern edge of the state. 

NOAA officials on Friday released an unsigned statement affirming Trump's claims. The statement also disavowed the tweet from the National Weather Service in Birmingham about the hurricane. 

The statement sparked backlash from many quarters of the scientific community and within the NWS.

“These are the people risking their lives flying into hurricanes and putting out forecasts that save lives. Never before has their management undercut their scientifically sound reasoning and forecasts,” Dan Sobien, who heads the National Weather Service Employees Organization representing thousands of employees working under NOAA, told The Daily Beast

The anonymous NOAA official told the Post that the statement called out Birmingham's office because one NOAA hurricane forecast showed a chance of tropical storm-force winds hitting a small part of Alabama.