NOAA Chief Scientist Unveils Internal Investigation

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In the age of Donald Trump occupying the White House, little to nothing is off limits from wild gaffe-ridden scandal, apparently. For days following the onslaught of Hurricane Dorian, which wrecked The Bahamas and wreaked havoc up and down the East Coast of the United States (and Canada), Trump has occupied himself with insisting he wasn’t actually completely wrong in insisting that Alabama would see effects from the storm despite largely sitting completely outside forecasts. Now, the top scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is apparently conducting an internal investigation into his agency’s response to Trump’s gaffe, which included internal directives against countering the president’s mistake and a public statement throwing those down in Alabama who did under the bus.

In an internal email to NOAA staff, that top scientist Craig McLean (who’s actually also got experience as an attorney) denounced the agency’s behavior in the wake of Trump’s mess as “political” and possibly helping inflict a “danger to public health and safety.”

As he put it:

‘The NWS Forecaster(s) corrected any public misunderstanding in an expert and timely way, as they should. 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… [T]he content of this press release… compromises the ability of NOAA to convey life-saving information necessary to avoid substantial and specific danger to public health and safety… If the public cannot trust our information, or we debase our forecaster’s warnings and products, that specific danger arises.’

Members of the public rely on official forecasts to make potentially life and death-deciding decisions — but what are they supposed to do if they suddenly have to question whether information got suppressed because it contradicted Trump’s latest random outburst? In light of that question, McLean says he’s investigating whether the agency’s behavior “constituted a violation of NOAA policies and ethics,” in the description of The Washington Post, which obtained a copy of his in-agency communication.

Criticism for the agency’s response has been widespread at this point, in addition to the criticism lobbed at the president and his team for obsessing over this issue instead of just admitting a mistake. Even the American Meteorological Society (AMS) chimed in, sharing:

‘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.’

Following Trump’s initial false public statement about Dorian’s path and potential impacts, the Birmingham office of the National Weather Service (NWS) corrected him, although not in a direct response. Still, they insisted in a tweet that Alabama would see no effects from the storm, which was consistent with the lion’s share of forecast models available at the time — and an important message to get out, considering Dorian’s already in-place status in the record books as one of the most massive storms in Atlantic history.

Trump could have been working to address issues like climate change and the death toll and destruction Dorian left. Instead, he’s nitpicking his public image.

Featured Image via screenshot