Sharpie-Gate Lives On
In the week since President Trump asserted incorrectly that Alabama was likely to get hit "(much) harder than anticipated" by Hurricane Dorian, he has fired off many tweets insisting he was technically correct, doctored a weather map with a Sharpie, got his homeland security adviser to back him up, and earned an odd unsigned statement from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration saying the National Weather Service's Birmingham office had been wrong to correct him.
A story that could have died discreetly with one admission of error has now prompted several investigations focused on NOAA's statement. The inspector general of the Commerce Department, which includes NOAA, is looking into whether NOAA compromised the NWS's "standards of scientific integrity," endangering its "ability to communicate accurate and timely weather warnings and data to the nation in times of national emergency," according to documents reviewed by The New York Times.
NOAA's acting chief scientist, Craig McClean, also informed staff in an email Sunday that he is "pursuing the potential violations of our NOAA Administrative Order on Scientific Integrity," explaining: "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." The New York Times reported Monday that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had threatened to fire NOAA's acting director and other top political appointees if they didn't bolster Trump's incorrect claim; Commerce denied the firing threat but not that Ross ordered NOAA to back Trump.
McClean, a marine scientist and lawyer, also criticized the "unsigned news release from 'NOAA' that inappropriately and incorrectly contradicted the NWS forecaster." NWS Director Louis Uccellini and the NWS's Birmingham forecasters similarly got standing ovations at a major weather industry conference in Huntsville on Monday after Uccellini praised the Birmingham team's decision to "shut down what they thought were rumors," acting solely "to stop public panic." The National Weather Service Employees Organization union is taking their members' complains about NOAA's statement the politicization of weather forecasting to Capitol Hill.