The government weather forecasters who swatted down President Donald Trump’s incorrect claim that Hurricane Dorian was headed for Alabama did so without realizing he was the source of the misinformation, according to newly released internal documents.
The National Weather Service’s Birmingham office was responding to an “increase in calls from anxious and panicked citizens and core partners” about the storm’s track, which at the time was forecast to make landfall in Florida and continue north, steering clear of Alabama to the west.
Their post to Twitter on September 1 came after Trump’s own post that the state “will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated.”
“Some in media assumed, understandably so, that our social media posts were a direct response to the WH post. In fact, they were not as we were not even aware of them at the time,” the meteorologist in charge of that office, Chris Darden, wrote later that day in an email explaining the events.
The email is one among a stack released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees the weather service, on Thursday in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from CNN and other news organizations.
The President’s false claim — and the controversial events that followed — raised questions about presidential misinformation and political interference in crucial science-based forecasting designed to inform the public and minimize loss of life.
The controversy escalated in subsequent days when the President defended his claim on television using a doctored weather map and NOAA issued a public statement disavowing the forecasters’ accurate report as “inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.”
On the same day that Trump held up the doctored weather map in the Oval Office, Darden wrote in another email: “This has really gotten out of hand.”
Several angry messages poured into NOAA leadership after its statement.
“Shame, shame, shame on you,” one message read.
The documents shed light on the tricky tightrope weather service managers were walking between the President’s claims and the integrity of their forecasters.
At one point, a national NOAA spokesman advised a Maryland-based official to avoid questions about the President by referring them to the Washington offices.
“Just continue to send them over – no need to comment at all,” the spokesman wrote. “If this comes up during a phone interview, your clean response is, ‘I’m focused on the upcoming impacts from Dorian on the Carolinas and mid-Atlantic.’ “
At the same time, the Birmingham office and NOAA leadership were receiving messages of support for the Alabama forecasters.
Darden sent one to his team, writing: “These unsolicited notes of support are a reflection of your work and efforts.”
Forecasters in Texas sent the Alabama team a gift card for Pizza Hut.