WASHINGTON – The White House was directly involved in a push by a federal science agency to reject weather forecasts that contradicted President Trump's statement that Hurricane Dorian is likely to hit Alabama, according to several people familiar with the events.
Mick Mulvaney, acting White House chief, told Wilbur Ross, Commerce Secretary, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to publicly deactivate the position that Alabama was not at risk. The NOAA, which is part of the Commerce Department, issued an unsigned statement last Friday, saying the Birmingham, Alanya office was wrong to challenge the president's warning.
The release of the NOAA statement raised complaints that the Trump administration had misinterpreted the professional weather forecast system to justify the president's erroneous claim. The Inspector General of the Commerce Department is investigating how that statement came about, saying it could call into question scientific independence.
The Democrat-controlled Committee on Science, Space and Technology announced Wednesday that it also has opened an investigation into Mr Ross's actions.
The White House had no immediate comment Wednesday, but a senior administration official said Mr Mulvani was interested in correcting the record because he believed Birmingham's forecasts went too far and the president rightly suggested there were forecasts showing potential impact on Alabama.
Mr. Trump was furious that his projections in Alabama were at odds with him. On September 1, President wrote on Twitter that Alabama was "most likely to be hit (much) harder than expected." Minutes later, the Birmingham National Weather Service posted on Twitter that "Alabama will NOT see effects from Dorian. We reiterate, no impact from Hurricane Dorian will be felt in Alabama. "
For almost a week, Mr. Trump continued to insist that he was right, showing outdated cards, including one that had apparently been modified with a Sharpie pen to make it look like Alabama might be on the storm. He urged his homeland security advisor to issue a statement supporting him.
Mr. Ross called Neil Jacobs, acting NOAA administrator from Greece, where the secretary travels for meetings, and instructs Dr. Jacobs to correct the president's perceived contradiction, according to three people informed of the discussions.
Dr. Jacobs objected to the request and was told that NOAA political appointees would be fired if the situation was not resolved, according to three people who asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the episode.
Agency political officers typically include a handful of senior officials, such as Dr. Jacobs and their assistants. They are assigned to their jobs by the administration that is currently in power, unlike career government employees who remain in their jobs while administrations come and go.
The NOAA statement, eventually issued on Friday, called the Birmingham office statement "inconsistent with the probabilities of the best forecast products available at the time. “
Dr. Since then, Jacobs has sought to reassure his workforce and the broad scientific community concerned about political interference.
"This administration is committed to the important mission of the weather forecast," Dr. Jacobs told a meteorological conference Tuesday in Huntsville, Ala. "There is no pressure to change the way you communicate or forecast the risk in the future."
In a speech, Dr. Jacobs praised Mr. Trump, calling him "genuinely interested in improving weather forecasts" and voiced the president's position . that Dorian initially threatened Alabama. "At one point, Alabama was in the mix, as was the rest of the Southeast."
He also said he still has faith in the Birmingham office. "The purpose of the NOAA statement was to clarify the technical aspects of Dorian's potential impacts," said Dr. Jacobs. "What has not been said, however, is that we understand and fully support the good intent of the Birmingham Weather Bureau, which was to allay fears in support of public safety."