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Sun Sep 15, 2019, 04:20 PM

Trump administration politics have no place in weather forecasting

Op-ed from @ametsoc President-elect Mary Glackin:

Capital Weather Gang • Perspective
Trump administration politics have no place in weather forecasting and have damaged trust

By Mary Glackin
September 15 at 11:27 AM

The United States enjoys the best weather services in the world. While there is certainly room for improvement, forecasting has improved remarkably over the past decades. This was clearly demonstrated as Hurricane Dorian approached the southeastern coast. A surgically precise evacuation process, based on warnings from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, saved millions of dollars in evacuation expense. This was the strongest hurricane to get incredibly close to the contiguous United States in more than 80 years.

Two weeks ago, the weather enterprise took a hit. On Sept. 1, President Trump incorrectly tweeted Alabama would “most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated.” Fortunately, that misinformation was quickly rectified by the Birmingham National Weather Service (NWS) forecast office, which is under the auspices of the NOAA.

On Sept. 6, though, an unsigned NOAA release inappropriately highlighted the minimal chance of tropical-storm-force winds that existed in far southeastern Alabama on Sept. 1. Most egregiously, it chastised the NWS Birmingham forecast office for correcting the misinformation from Trump and reassuring its constituents that they faced no serious threat from Dorian. This NOAA release was not based on sound science, or good management practices for that matter.

The consequences are twofold. First, the statement has created a morale problem within the NOAA and could ultimately hinder its chances of attracting world-class talent. The virtually unanimous outcry from the weather community, and staff-supportive actions from NOAA leaders, may help to repair this damage. But we must recognize that this misguided action also threatens to undermine public trust in our nation’s weather warning services.

By bringing politics into the forecasting and warning process, the Trump administration is directly working to erode the American public’s trust. That lack of trust will result in poor decisions and lives lost. The administration should commit to supporting NOAA staff and stay out of forecast operations — where NWS meteorologists are, and should be treated as, the experts.

Mary Glackin is the president-elect of the American Meteorological Society. She previously was vice president of weather business solutions at the Weather Co. and worked for 34 years at the NOAA, including serving as deputy undersecretary.

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