Hurricane Dorian may have come and gone, but apparently the debacle over Donald Trump’s faulty Alabama forecast has yet to reach rock bottom. Before the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration debased itself Friday by siding with Trump, a top NOAA official gave staff the downright Orwellian warning not to contradict the president’s bad take, according to the Washington Post.
Hours after Trump erroneously tweeted that Alabama would be among the states “hit (much) harder than anticipated” by the storm last week, staff for the National Weather Service, a part of NOAA, received an agencywide directive, per the Post’s report. It warned them 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.” Staff members were also warned against expressing their opinion about the matter. According to a NOAA meteorologist the Post spoke with on the condition of anonymity, this directive came after the NWS Birmingham office tweeted that Trump was full of crap and Dorian was too far east for Alabama to be impacted by it.
And when the president defended his initial claims days later with a storm projection map drawn on with Sharpie, so obviously and poorly doctored that it was almost laughable, the NWS purportedly reiterated this warning to staff. According to the meteorologist the Post spoke with, these directives marked a stark difference to the organization’s mission statement of providing accurate weather information to the public:
“This is the first time I’ve felt pressure from above to not say what truly is the forecast. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around. One of the things we train on is to dispel inaccurate rumors and ultimately that is what was occurring— ultimately what the Alabama office did is provide a forecast with their tweet, that is what they get paid to do.”
Just to be clear, Alabama was never at risk for the kind of hurricane-force winds the Bahamas and southeastern states saw this past week. A few forecasts, including some from the agency, showed a sliver of Alabama at low risk for tropical-storm-force winds. So for NOAA to publically support Trump’s claim, as the agency did Friday in a press release, constitutes a heavy blow to the credibility of an agency much of the country depends on in times of weather crises.