Hurricane Tweet That Angered Trump Wasn’t About Trump, Forecasters Say


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WASHINGTON — When officials at a government weather forecasting office assured Alabama residents that a September hurricane would not hit their state, they did not intend to contradict President Trump’s insistence that it would, according to newly disclosed documents.

Instead, they were answering a deluge of questions from Alabama residents whose concerns had been raised by Mr. Trump’s statements.

Hundreds of emails and other documents obtained this week through public records requests shed new light on how the weather can turn political in an administration that demands loyalty to Mr. Trump even when his positions are at odds with scientific facts. They show that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees the National Weather Service, was fully aware that Hurricane Dorian was not headed for Alabama even though they issued a statement days later chastising scientists for saying just that.

“I wanted to let you know that the forecasters in Birmingham who made the clarification post for Alabama was unaware of the POTUS tweet when they made their post,” Susan Buchanan, director of public affairs for the National Weather Service, wrote to NOAA officials the morning after scientists posted their Twitter message on Sept. 1 saying that “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from Dorian.” Potus is shorthand for president of the United States.

One NOAA meteorologist, Alex Krautmann, emailed the communications staff shortly after the statement was posted. “This statement is deeply upsetting to NOAA employees that have worked the hurricane and not fully accurate based on the timeline in question,” he wrote. “Please raise this in feedback through proper channels.”

Mr. Ross’s spokesman has denied that the secretary threatened firings, and Mr. Trump denied that he gave his chief of staff instructions to disavow the forecast.

“I never did that,” Mr. Trump said last month. “That’s a whole hoax by the fake news media. When they talk about the hurricane and when they talk about Florida and they talk about Alabama, that’s just fake news.”

But Neil Jacobs, the acting administrator of NOAA, told congressional investigators that Mr. Mulvaney played a key role, according to Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, the Texas Democrat who heads the House Science Committee, which is leading one of three separate federal inquiries into the statement.

In a letter this month to Mr. Ross, Ms. Johnson noted that the interview with Mr. Jacobs revealed that top Commerce Department political appointees, not NOAA officials, had drafted the statement and that Mr. Mulvaney was “involved in high-level conversations” about it.

According to Ms. Johnson’s letter, Mr. Jacobs also confirmed a New York Times report that he was first contacted about issuing the statement before dawn on Sept. 6. The Commerce Department officials involved in drafting the letter — David Dewhirst, deputy general counsel; Earl Comstock, director of policy; and Julie Kay Roberts, Mr. Jacobs’ deputy chief of staff and communications director — are all political appointees. None holds a scientific degree.

The episode began the night of Sept. 1 as Dorian gathered strength over the Atlantic and headed toward the East Coast. Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter that Alabama, among other states, “will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated.”



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