The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s acting administrator sought to assure his employees Tuesday that their jobs are safe, following a report that NOAA’s top officials were threatened to be fired if they didn’t disavow a regional office’s tweet that contradicted President Donald Trump’s false claim that Hurricane Dorian was likely to hit Alabama.
“No one’s job is under threat. Not mine, not yours. The weather service team has my full support and the support of the department,” Dr. Neil Jacobs said during a speech at the National Weather Association’s meeting in Huntsville, Alabama.
The New York Times reported Monday that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross informed him NOAA’s political staff would be fired if he did not fix the National Weather Service’s contradiction of Trump’s claim. A Commerce Department spokesperson previously denied the story.
The Times reported that Ross’ threat to fire the employees is what led NOAA on Friday to disavow a tweet from the National Weather Service’s Birmingham, Alabama, office that had refuted Trump’s assertion that Dorian would impact Alabama.
The Commerce Department inspector general is opening a review of the statement NOAA issued disavowing the tweet, a source with knowledge of the situation told CNN. Democratic Rep. Paul Tonko of New York – who chairs a House subcommittee – has asked NOAA’s scientific integrity officer in a letter first obtained by CNN to “open an investigation into this matter immediately.”
On Tuesday, Jacobs stood by the agency’s support of Trump’s claims that Hurricane Dorian was likely to hit Alabama.
“At one point, Alabama was in the mix, as was the rest of the Southeast,” Jacobs said, adding, “Up until Advisory 29, the risk to the Gulf states exceeded that of North Carolina.”
Jacobs said Dorian was a difficult storm to forecast.
“Everyone in this room knows forecast models change. This is why we run the models four times a day, sometimes every hour,” Jacobs said Tuesday. “That’s why the Hurricane center does multiple updates a day because the forecast is always changing.”
Jacobs voiced support for the weather service, but he did not apologize for the NOAA statement from Friday.
“The purpose of the NOAA statement was to clarify the technical aspects of the potential impacts of Dorian. What it did not say, however, is that we understand and fully support the good intent of the Birmingham weather forecast office, which was to calm fears and support public safety,” he said
About an hour after Jacobs spoke, the NWA released a statement in support of its meteorologists.
“These dedicated individuals strive to clearly communicate the threats and impacts to our communities… to empower leaders in our communities to make life-saving decisions,” NWA President Paul Schlatter and NWA CEO Janice Bunting said Tuesday.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science said it was concerned about “what increasingly appears to be political pressure” from the federal government to change a weather forecast.
“The NWS Birmingham office was simply doing its job in communicating a sound weather forecast based on the best available scientific data forecasted at that time,” Alan I. Leshner, the interim chief executive officer for the AAAS, said in a statement Tuesday. “They should be celebrated for communicating accurate information so important to the public, not asked to change a weather forecast in reaction to any political pressure. The misuse of science is a great disservice to the American people.”
In an email to NOAA staff on Sunday made public on Tuesday, acting Chief Scientist Craig McLean said he is investigating why agency leadership backed Trump’s false claims about Alabama being in Dorian’s path.
“I am pursuing the potential violations of our NOAA Administrative Order on Scientific Integrity,” McLean said. “My understanding is that this intervention to contradict the forecaster was not based on science but on external factors including reputation and appearance, or simply put, political.”
He added that the episode has been “very concerning” because “it compromises the ability of NOAA to convey life-saving information necessary to avoid substantial and specific danger to public health and safety.”
This story has been updated.
CNN’s Rene Marsh, Carma Hassan, Chandelis Duster and Paul LeBlanc contributed to this report.