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Weather Service office rebuked over Trump, Dorian tweet

Published: Friday, September 06, 2019 @ 7:07 PM

In a highly unusual public reprimand of a local weather forecast office, the parent agency of the National Weather Service on Friday said forecasters in Birmingham, Alabama wrongly issued a tweet disputing President Donald Trump's Sunday warning that the state of Alabama could be directly impacted by Hurricane Dorian.

"The Birmingham National Weather Service's Sunday morning tweet spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products at the time," the statement read from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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“I have never been so embarrassed by NOAA," said Dan Sobien, the head of the National Weather Service Employees Organization. "What they did is just disgusting."

The unattributed statement was quickly denounced by weather experts, including the dean of Alabama TV meteorologists, James Spann.

"The tweet from NWS Birmingham was spot on and accurate," Spann tweeted, expressing his indignation that the White House had seemingly spurred NOAA to criticize government weather forecasters.

The Birmingham National Weather Service office issued that tweet on Sunday morning, soon after President Trump had said to TV cameras - and on Twitter - that Alabama "will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated" - even though the National Hurricane Center had the storm going nowhere near Alabama.

"Alabama could even be in for at least some very strong winds and something more than that, it could be." the President told reporters on Sunday. 

"This just came up, unfortunately," he added. "So, for Alabama, just please be careful also." 

But the National Hurricane Center forecast was not focused at all on Alabama, instead focused on threats to the Atlantic seaboard from Florida through the Carolinas - and the National Weather Service office in Birmingham quickly said residents of Alabama were not in any weather danger.

"There is nothing wrong with this Tweet from NWS Birmingham issued on Sept 1 after the President's erroneous information," tweeted meteorologist Ryan Maue.

"Nothing like throwing your "Alabama" NWS office under the bus," Maue added on Twitter.

The President's mention of Alabama on Sunday had basically been ignored as the news focus was on Hurricane Dorian destroying islands in the Bahamas, and then threatening the eastern coasts of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.

But that changed on Wednesday, when an out-of-date National Hurricane Center forecast map was used as part of a briefing in the Oval Office, as the map was altered with a black pen - evidently to demonstrate a weather threat to Alabama - and support the President's mention of the Yellowhammer State.

"They actually gave that a 95 percent chance probability," the President said of Dorian's threat to Alabama on Wednesday.

"It turned out that that was not what happened; it made the right turn up the coast," Mr. Trump told reporters. "But Alabama was hit very hard, and was going to be hit very hard, along with Georgia." 

The President was absolutely correct that earlier last week, there were concerns that Dorian could go across the Florida Peninsula and into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening Alabama and the Gulf Coast.

But by Sunday when President Trump warned residents in Alabama about Dorian, that state was not in the sights of the hurricane at all.

The reaction in the weather community to the Friday statement by NOAA was one of shock.

"The most embarrassing thing I’ve seen @NOAA do in my 35 years in the field," said University of Oklahoma meteorologist Kevin Kloesel.

"Omg @NOAA really," said Marshall Shepherd, a former NASA scientist and weather professor.

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