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NOAA Contradicts Weather Service, Backs Trump On Hurricane Threat In Alabama

President Trump holds an altered chart as he talks with reporters after receiving a briefing on Hurricane Dorian in the Oval Office of the White House, on Wednesday in Washington.
Evan Vucci
President Trump holds an altered chart as he talks with reporters after receiving a briefing on Hurricane Dorian in the Oval Office of the White House, on Wednesday in Washington.

The parent agency of the National Weather Service said late Friday that President Trump was correct when he claimed earlier this week that Hurricane Dorian had threatened the state of Alabama.

The surprise announcement in an unsigned statement by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration essentially endorsed Trump's Sunday tweet saying that Alabama will "most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated."

After the president's tweet, the National Weather Service, in Birmingham, Ala., responded with its own tweet, saying, "Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane #Dorian will be felt across Alabama. The system will remain too far east."

The NOAA statement takes the National Weather Service to task, declaring, "The Birmingham National Weather Service's Sunday morning tweet spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time."

The surprise statement on Friday has left meteorologists across the country baffled and upset.

"Some administrator, or someone at the top of NOAA, threw the National Weather Service under the bus," Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami, told NPR.

"The part that really smells fishy is that this is five days after that tweet by Trump," he added. "If the National Weather Service did issue a misleading or incorrect tweet, that would need to be amended or fixed in an hour or two."

"I am very disappointed to see this statement come out from NOAA," University of Oklahoma assistant meteorology professor Jason Furtado told The Associated Press. He said the controversy over the president's tweets and the NOAA statement undermines public confidence in meteorologists.

Since his original tweet, Trump has revisited the issue almost every day this week, including displaying an altered version of a map showing Hurricane Dorian's projected path to include Alabama.

But, NPR's Brian Naylor reported that one National Hurricane Center map showed that Alabama could see tropical-force, not hurricane-class winds. Such winds range between 39 mph and 73 mph. That map also shows that there was only a 5 percent chance of such winds, below hurricane level, reaching Alabama.

Underlining the reaction by meteorologists to the escalating debate over the president's claims is the fear that weather forecasting itself is becoming politicized.

"Hurricanes have never been a left or a right object," said McNoldy. "And I hope they don't become one."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: September 6, 2019 at 11:00 PM CDT
A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to the University of Oklahoma as Oklahoma University.
Richard Gonzales is NPR's National Desk Correspondent based in San Francisco. Along with covering the daily news of region, Gonzales' reporting has included medical marijuana, gay marriage, drive-by shootings, Jerry Brown, Willie Brown, the U.S. Ninth Circuit, the California State Supreme Court and any other legal, political, or social development occurring in Northern California relevant to the rest of the country.
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