NOAA chief defends Ala. office, Trump on Dorian
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration both defended the administration Tuesday and thanked a local weather office that contradicted President Donald Trump’s claims about Hurricane Dorian threatening Alabama.
Acting administrator Neil Jacobs told a meteorology group that a NOAA statement issued Friday that criticized the Birmingham-area forecast office after it disagreed with Trump was meant to clarify “technical aspects” about Dorian’s potential impact.
“What it did not say, however, was that we understood and fully support the good intent of the weather office, which was to calm fears in support of public safety,” Jacobs said.
The acting chief scientist at NOAA previously said the agency likely violated its scientific i ntegrity rules when it publicly chastised the office in the unsigned statement, and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., asked the inspector general to investigate.
Jacobs, a career meteorologist, appeared near tears at the lectern as he thanked the Birmingham office and mentioned Kevin Laws, a staff leader who was in the audience.
“This is hard for me,” said Jacobs, his voice choked.
Laws, science and operations officer with the weather service office in Birmingham, said he appreciated the remarks by Jacobs, whom he has known for 20 years.
“Absolutely no hard feelings,” Laws said.
Past NOAA administrators, a former National Weather Service chief and a former National Hurricane Center director — among others — have blasted the NOAA statement as inappropriate, saying they supported the chastised Alabama weather office.
Kathy Sullivan, who ran NOAA under former President Barack Obama, said Jacobs’ words won’t fix a “breach of trust” he created.
“A trust has been shattered and only actions can repair it. Trust is like glass: shatters in an instant, with a single blow, and takes a long time to restore,” she said in a statement.
The world’s largest general science society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said weather forecasters should not be “asked to change a weather forecast in reaction to any political pressure.”
Retired Adm. David W. Titley, an assistant NOAA administrator during the Obama Administration and former meteorology professor at Pennsylvania State University, said that it seemed Jacobs was stuck between orders from the White House and Department of Commerce and a rebellion by some in the National Weather Service.
“For some reason he seems desperate to keep his job — and this results in the pathos we saw this morning,” Titley said in an email. “Personally I think his situation is untenable; he should attempt to salvage what’s left of his self-respect. He either stands by the Friday p.m. statement or he does not — but he can’t have it both ways.”
Paul Schlatter, president of the 2,100-member National Weather Association, where Jacobs spoke, said he doesn’t envy Jacobs, who he described as a career “weather geek” caught in a tough position.
Weather officials said Birmingham forecasters didn’t realize that rumors about Dorian threatening to hit the state began with a tweet by Trump, who apparently relied on information that was several days old. The office issued a tweet of its own saying Alabama wasn’t at risk.
Laws declined to say who sent the tweet that contradicted Trump. “It came from all of us,” he said.
On Sept. 4, Trump displayed a map of Dorian’s projected path that showed the cone of uncertainty covering much of Florida but stopping in its panhandle. An extension was added in black marker that covered a part of Alabama.
President Trump made an inaccurate tweet Sept. 1 and then displayed an altered map Sept. 4 about Dorian.