NOAA chief de­fends Ala. of­fice, Trump on Do­rian

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Jay Reeves

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.


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