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A top official with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warned staffers last week not to contradict President Donald Trump’s false claims about Hurricane Dorian’s path, according to The Washington Post.
The email obtained by the Post was sent last Sunday, just hours after Trump tweeted that Alabama “would most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated” by Hurricane Dorian, even though projections at that time showed no such thing.
The official told staffers, who are tasked with accurately providing information during life-or-death situations, to “only stick with official National Hurricane Center forecasts if questions arise from some national level social media posts which hit the news this afternoon.”
A staffer who spoke to the Post on the condition of anonymity said it was clear to employees that “social media posts” referred to a tweet from the National Weather Service station in Birmingham, Alabama, which contradicted Trump.
“This is the first time I’ve felt pressure from above to not say what truly is the forecast,” the NOAA meteorologist told the Post. “It’s hard for me to wrap my head around. One of the things we train on is to dispel inaccurate rumors and ultimately that is what was occurring — ultimately what the Alabama office did is provide a forecast with their tweet, that is what they get paid to do.”
NOAA was already under fire for appearing to side with Trump over its own scientists. The agency sent out a statement on Friday in which it criticized the Birmingham office for its tweet.
A NOAA official, also speaking anonymously, told the Post there was “no political motivation” behind that statement and said the tweet from the NWS was singled out because an earlier NOAA hurricane forecast did show a 5% to 20% chance of tropical storm-force winds in one small part of Alabama.
But that explanation glosses over some key inaccuracies: Such wind speeds very rarely cause the damage Trump suggested in his tweet, and Alabama was not in the National Hurricane Center’s “cone of uncertainty” when Trump tweeted.
Several former top officials with NOAA also spoke out against their former employer’s actions, saying they were potentially putting lives at risk.
This is the latest detail to emerge in a controversy in which Trump has continually refused to admit any error. The president has spent days trying to prove he was right about Alabama, going as far as to show apparently altered maps to the press and reportedly reaching out to Fox News to back him up.