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NOAA Emails Confirm Trump Altered Dorian Map

President Donald J. Trump, joined by Vice President Mike Pence, receives a briefing update on Hurricane Dorian as it approaches the U.S. mainland Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019, in the Oval Office of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead) Date: 29 August 2019, 14:38 Source: Hurricane Dorian Briefing Author: The White House from Washington, DC

“While it may seem like a minor issue of Trump simply insisting he is right and bending public agencies to his will to affirm it, critics argue that inaccurate NWS and NOAA information can endanger lives.”

The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration released emails Friday pertaining to Hurricane Dorian in September, 2019. President Donald Trump stirred controversy about the storm after he tweeted that Alabama “would most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated.”

Senior officials at NOAA were “sick” and “flabbergasted” with how the organization responded to the administration’s demands in handling the public relations crisis, according to Allan Smith of NBC News.

Acting Chief Neil Jacobs and Ret. Rear Adm. Tim Gallaudet sent a series of emails commending the Birmingham National Weather Service station for their efforts to accurately clarify Dorian’s path. After the Trump tweet, the NWS Birmingham office tweeted that Alabama would not be in the line of fire.

After pushback from the White House, however, NOAA officials were pressured to issue a press release that essentially negated the NWS tweet, calling it “inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.” 

Trump eventually invited reporters into the Oval Office to view a map that he claimed showed the course of Hurricane Dorian, with a circle marked in sharpie to extend it across Florida and over Alabama.

When NOAA back-tracked on the NWS tweet, which was accurate in terms of Dorian’s path, scientists and internal staff criticized the agency for bowing to political pressure. Marine biologist Gary Shigenaka emailed the agency with concerns, which prompted responses from both Gallaudet and Jacobs.

“Please accept [acting NOAA chief Neil Jacobs’] reply as a sincere acknowledgment of a press release we did not approve or support,” Gallaudet wrote to Shigenaka. “You know from my multiple messages to you and your colleagues that we respect and stand behind your service and scientific integrity.”

Jacobs said, “This whole thing is being blown way out of proportion and politicized. The so-called tweet said absolutely no chance of impacts and NHC guidance was calling for 5-30%. The forecast office did the right thing to calm the nerves of citizens. I love NOAA. I am so proud of everything you all do.

“You have no idea how hard I’m fighting to keep politics out of science,” he continued. “We are an objective science agency, and we won’t and never will base any decisions on anything other than science.”

Corey Pieper, a former communications staffer for NOAA, confirmed to his coworkers that Trump’s map was in fact doctored, the New York Times reported.

“Are you sure it was doctored? Was Alabama never in thee cone to that extent? asked Susan Buchanan, a coworker.

He responded, “Yes, that was doctored.”

When NOAA disavowed the Birmingham office via press release, Maureen O’Leary, public affairs specialist, went off on the move, the emails show. 

“You are not going to believe this BULL,” she wrote.

One spokesman simply messaged a colleague, “HELP!!!” 

Craig McLean, acting chief scientist, perhaps had the harshest words aimed directly at the core issue of the agency being used as a political pawn against the NWS to contradict accurate information. 

“For an agency founded upon and recognized for determining scientific truths, trusted by the public, and responsible in law to put forward important science information, I find it unconscionable that an anonymous voice inside of NOAA would be found to castigate a dutiful, correct, and loyal (National Weather Service) Forecaster who spoke the truth,” McLean said, according to Veronica Stracqualursi for CNN. 

McLean filed a formal complaint with the agency about the alleged unethical behavior. While it may seem like a minor issue of Trump simply insisting he is right and bending public agencies to his will to affirm it, critics argue that inaccurate NWS and NOAA information could endanger lives. By including Alabama in the map beyond the scope of scientific predictions, Trump potentially caused undue panic as residents tried to evacuate or hunker down.

18 U.S. Code § 2074. False weather reports reads: “The alternation of weather maps to convey false information is serious enough that it is a federal crime. Whoever knowingly issues or publishes any counterfeit weather forecast or warning of weather conditions falsely representing such forecast or warning to have been issued or published by the Weather Bureau, United States Signal Service, or other branch of the Government service, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ninety days, or both.”

Daniel Davis

Daniel Davis is Managing Editor for The Osage County Herald-Chronicle in Kansas and also covers International news for Inside Over, a Milan-based global affairs publication. He graduated in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. Outside of writing, he enjoys photography and one day hopes to return to video production. Learn more about him at his website danieldavis.la.

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