Chief scientist investigating NOAA’s backing of Trump over experts on Dorian

The acting chief scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) is investigating whether the agency’s response to President Trump’s claims about Hurricane Dorian constituted a violation of policies and ethics, The Washington Post reported Monday.

In a Sunday email obtained by the newspaper and later verified by The Hill, Craig McLean called NOAA’s response “political” and a “danger to public health and safety.”

Trump faced widespread backlash last week after stating that Alabama would potentially feel the effects of Dorian and then refusing to back down from that claim.

{mosads}At the time, the National Weather Service’s (NWS) forecast guidance showed only a very small risk to the state from tropical storm–force winds.

The NWS’s Birmingham, Ala., division corrected the president on Sept. 1 without naming him.

Then last Friday, NOAA officials released an unsigned statement affirming Trump’s claims and admonishing the Birmingham division for speaking “in absolute terms.”

That statement received widespread condemnation from scientists.

The American Meteorological Society (AMS), for example, quickly issued a statement of support for the NWS.

“AMS believes the criticism of the Birmingham forecast office is unwarranted; 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 group of scientists wrote.

In his email Sunday, McLean criticized NOAA’s statement as well.

“The NWS Forecaster(s) corrected any public misunderstanding in an expert and timely way, as they should,” he wrote, according to 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.”

“The content of this press 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,” he continued.

McLean told his staff, “I am pursuing the potential violations of our NOAA Administrative Order on Scientific Integrity.”

A spokesperson for the NWS told The Hill that leadership “stands with the entire National Weather Service workforce and will continue to uphold the scientific integrity of the forecast process as it was skillfully applied by all NWS offices last week to ensure public safety, first and foremost.”

On Monday, NWS Director Louis Uccellini reportedly defended the original Birmingham response, saying forecasters had been bombarded with social media contacts and phone calls following the president’s tweet.

“They did that with one thing in mind: public safety,” Uccellini said Monday at a National Weather Association meeting. “Only later, when the retweets and politically based comments started coming to their office, did they learn the sources of this information.”

—Updated at 1:47 p.m.

Tags Donald Trump Hurricane Dorian

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