Energy & Environment

Emails show weather service employees were frustrated by Trump, ‘Sharpiegate’

Internal emails show employees at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Weather Service (NWS) were upset and frustrated after President Trump held up a map in the White House that showed an altered path for Hurricane Dorian sketched out with a black marker.

Emails obtained by The Hill and other news outlets through a Freedom of Information Act request show some scientists were flabbergasted at the president’s actions in the so-called Sharpiegate controversy, and that they worried about other steps that might be taken.

The emails also criticized the NOAA over a statement it issued that sided with the president over the NWS, which had said Trump’s map incorrectly suggested that Alabama was in the path of the hurricane.

“What’s next? Climate science is a hoax? Flabbergasted to leave our forecasters hanging in the political wind,” said an email by NOAA’s acting chief scientist Craig McLean regarding the statement.

Trump on Sept. 1 tweeted that Alabama was a potential target of Hurricane Dorian, writing, “In addition to Florida – South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated.”

After Trump’s remarks, the NWS office in Birmingham, Ala., tweeted that the state would “NOT” be impacted. 

Trump continued to stand behind his statement on Alabama, however, and on Sept. 4 displayed a map of Dorian’s projected path that appeared to show the path extended with black marker to include Alabama.

On Sept. 6, the NOAA issued an unsigned statement saying that the NWS’s tweet “spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time” and that information provided to Trump and the public showed “that tropical-storm-force winds from Hurricane Dorian could impact Alabama.”

This statement resulted in some pushback from staffers, the new emails showed. 

“For an agency founded upon and recognized for determining scientific truths, trusted by the public, and responsible in law to put forward important science information, I find it unconscionable that an anonymous voice inside of NOAA would be found to castigate a dutiful, correct, and loyal NWS Forecaster who spoke the truth,” said McLean in one email. 

“Our employees need to know that we stand for science, not politically motivated apologies,” he added. 

In a reply to McLean’s email, Deputy NOAA Administrator Tim Gallaudet wrote “I have no problem with you being as vocal as all of our NWS employees on this — they are absolutely reeling over this.”

Similar sentiments were shared by other employees, who called the statement “deeply upsetting,” and “BULL.”

“Please do not allow the science and support that we perform on behalf of the American public to be tossed into the trash heap by political expediencies,” wrote one scientist. 

Neil Jacobs, assistant secretary of Commerce for environmental observation and prediction, replied: “The forecast office did the right thing to calm the nerves of citizens…You have no idea how hard I’m fighting to keep politics out of science.”

The emails also suggested that NWS employees began to have fears about whether posting important information could cost them their jobs. 

“Not right that men/women of NWS have put in this position while just trying to do their job. Hopefully, the Admin knows Birmingham didn’t even know there was a tweet when they reacted to public confusion/concern and tweeted saying there was no threat to AL,” said an email to Jacobs from NWS Chief Operating Officer John D. Murphy.

“Employees now fear for there [sic] jobs and are questioning whether they should post potentially life-saving info or check tweets first. This is not good and I will reassure employees to focus on mission as I have been doing. I really hope folks can find [a] way to let this go and our employees do not hesitate for even one second,” Murphy added. 

Emails also showed National Weather Service staffers discussing that the map used by Trump was “doctored.”

“The chart shown in the briefing is old and doctored to extend the cone into Alabama,” wrote one communications staffer.

“Are you sure they were doctored? Was Alabama never in the cone to that extent?” another replied. 

“Yes, that was doctored.. That is advisory 21 from Thursday at 11am,” the first staffer responded. 

The Hill has reached out to the NOAA and NWS for comment.

Tags Donald Trump Hurricane Dorian National Weather Service NOAA Sharpiegate
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