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WASHINGTON – When officials at a government weather office assured Alabama residents that a September hurricane would not hit their state, they were not meant to contradict President Trump's insistence that it did, according to newly released documents.
Instead, they were answering a flood of questions from Alabama residents whose concerns had been raised by Trump's statements.
Hundreds of e-mails and other documents obtained this week through public record requests shed new light on how the climate can become political in a government that demands loyalty to Trump, even when its positions are at odds with scientific facts. They show that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees the National Weather Service, was fully aware that Hurricane Dorian was not going to Alabama, although they issued a statement days later, scolding scientists for saying just that.
"I wanted to let you know that Birmingham meteorologists who made the clarification post in Alabama were unaware of the POTUS tweet when they took office," Susan Buchanan, director of public affairs for the National Weather Service, wrote to NOAA staff . morning after scientists posted their message on Twitter on September 1st saying "Alabama will NOT be impacted by Dorian". Potus is an abbreviation for president of the United States.
"They started getting a lot of calls from partners and the public out of nowhere asking about the hurricane and the local impacts," Buchanan wrote. "They didn't know what motivated these calls, but they thought they needed to clarify from an operational perspective. I hope this information helps.
Apparently that didn't help much. The White House continued to engage in a whispering campaign against the National Weather Service in Birmingham, Alabama, suggesting that the authorities there intended to embarrass Mr. Trump when they posted his message on Twitter.
The president demanded that advisers intervene and that the agency "clarify" the position of scientists, according to people familiar with the events.
What followed was an unusual and unsigned reprimand from NOAA's Birmingham office on September 6, saying staff members were wrong to categorically contest the president's warning.
This angered some officials and many citizens, who sent an email to NOAA public relations officials calling for a scolding of a degradation of the federal government's scientific integrity, the documents show.
NOAA meteorologist Alex Krautmann emailed the communications team shortly after the release. "This statement is deeply disturbing to NOAA staff who worked the hurricane and are not entirely accurate based on the timeline in question," he wrote. "Please increase this in the comments through the appropriate channels."
Some citizens were more insightful. "You have lost all credibility," one of them wrote to the Weather Service office in Portland, Oregon, which passed the note to the agency's top officials.
Another asked: “Do you have any idea of the damage done to NOAA's reputation and credibility? Do you mind?"
Emails and other documents, which were reviewed by the White House before NOAA made them public, offer no new clues about the actions of senior government officials. A NOAA spokesman, Scott Smullen, said the documents demonstrate "a professional communications office that handles media inquiries and normal operational email chat from the agency, as well as public and employee reaction to the problem."
The NOAA statement of September 6 came after Trump insisted without foundation for five days that Hurricane Dorian hit Alabama.
The New York Times reported that Mick Mulvaney, the White House's acting chief of staff, has instructed Wilbur Ross, the secretary of commerce, who oversees NOAA and the National Weather Service, to publicly refute the meteorologists. Ross warned the interim NOAA administrator that the agency's top officials could be fired if the situation were not resolved, according to several people informed about the discussions.
Ross's spokesman denied the secretary threatened layoffs and Trump denied giving instructions to the chief of staff to deny the prediction.
"I never did that," Trump said last month. "This is a fake media scam. When they talk about the hurricane and when they talk about Florida and Alabama, it's just fake news."
But Neil Jacobs, NOAA's interim administrator, told congressional investigators that Mulvaney played a key role, according to Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, the Texas Democrat who heads the House Science Committee, who leads one of three federal investigations. separate on the subject. declaration.
In a letter sent to Ross this month, Johnson noted that the interview with Jacobs revealed that the Commerce Department's top political nominees, not NOAA officials, had written the statement and that Mulvaney was "engaged in high-level conversations." about this.
According to Johnson's letter, Jacobs also confirmed a report from the New York Times that he was first contacted about issuing the statement before dawn on September 6. Department of Commerce staff involved in writing the letter – David Dewhirst, Deputy General Counsel; Earl Comstock, Director of Policy; and Julie Kay Roberts, Jacobs' deputy chief of staff and director of communications – they are all political nominees. None have a scientific degree.
The episode began on the evening of September 1, when Dorian joined forces over the Atlantic and headed toward the east coast. Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter that Alabama, among other states, "will probably be hit (much) harder than anticipated."
A few minutes after Trump's tweet, the Birmingham National Weather Service, caught off guard by worried phone calls from residents, posted your own message on Twitter stating that “Alabama will NOT be impacted by #Dorian. Again, no impact from Hurricane #Dorian will be felt in Alabama. ”The meteorologists were correct; Alabama was not hit by the hurricane.
Trump was furious and insisted for days that he was correct. He displayed or published outdated maps, including one that had apparently been altered with a Sharpie pen to look like Alabama was on its way to the storm.