Even for this intentionally unpresidential president, the past week’s saga of an outdated hurricane map, a Sharpie and an intimidated top bureaucracy is notable and instructive.
To briefly recap the situation: As Hurricane Dorian was bearing down on the Bahamas on Sept. 1, President Donald Trump tweeted that Alabama would be hit “harder than anticipated.” The National Weather Service office in Birmingham, Alabama, quickly issued its own tweet: “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane Dorian will be felt across Alabama.”
And that should have been it, a minor blip: a presidential misstatement, a correction, move on. Nothing to see here.
But there is always something to see here with this administration. On Sept. 4, Trump displayed an outdated, never released map to which a crudely drawn bubble was added to reach Alabama. And on Friday the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — the umbrella agency of which the National Weather Service is a part — issued an unsigned statement reprimanding the Birmingham NWS office for contradicting the Meteorologist in Chief.
That statement came, according to The New York Times, after Commerce Secretary Wilber Ross — whose portfolio includes NOAA — threatened to fire the leadership of that agency.
To reemphasize: No forecast issued by the National Weather Service or its National Hurricane Center ever projected Dorian to reach Alabama. Nor did Dorian come close to Alabama. Indeed, it never truly made landfall in the United States (although it certainly was felt along the coast of the Carolinas).
The Birmingham office was right. Trump was wrong.
This week the acting administrator of NOAA tried to have it both ways. Neil Jacobs, speaking to a meteorology group, praised both the Birmingham office and the Trump administration.
Note Jacob’s title: “acting administrator.” We have commented before on Trump’s penchant for skipping the process of presidential appointments and Senate confirmations. Almost three years after Trump’s election, he has yet to appoint a true administrator for NOAA, quite possibly because the agency is at the forefront of climate change research and analysis.
This incident underlines the disdain this president and his administration has for science, for accuracy, for the very process of governing. It undermines the credibility of a crucial government service — tracking and warning of dangerous storms. It is just another in a string of embarrassments for a president apparently immune to embarrassment.