Neil Jacobs, the acting head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, sent an all-staff email Friday afternoon in an apparent effort to repair damage from an unusual Sept. 6 statement that sided with President Trump rather than agency weather forecasters.
The controversial NOAA statement, which was unsigned, rebuked forecasters at the National Weather Service who tweeted that Alabama would “NOT see any impacts” from Hurricane Dorian after Trump wrongly tweeted that the state would “most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated.”
The Washington Post learned Jacobs and NOAA chief of staff Julie Kay Roberts were involved in crafting the statement, which admonished the Weather Service’s Birmingham office for speaking “in absolute terms.” However, Jacobs fought issuing such a statement and also tried to block the paragraph that called out the Birmingham Weather Service office but lost both those arguments, according to two people who spoke to The Post.
The Post subsequently reported that the statement resulted after Jacobs was ordered by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to fix things at the request of Trump, through his acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.
In the email to staff released Friday, with the subject line “Keeping NOAA’s Mission in Focus,” Jacobs showered praise on forecasters for their efforts during Dorian — specifically calling out the efforts of the Birmingham office.
“During hurricane Dorian, our Weather Forecast Offices, including Birmingham and the National Hurricane Center, did their utmost to produce accurate and timely weather forecasts to inform the general public and ensure public safety,” Jacobs wrote.
Jacobs had also lauded the Birmingham office in a speech at the National Weather Association annual conference in Huntsville on Tuesday.
“We understand and fully support the good intent of the Birmingham weather office, which was to calm fears and support public safety,” he said.
Many critics of NOAA’s statement feared it would erode public trust in the Weather Service by placing politics above science. They also worried about damage to forecasters’ morale. Jacobs’s letter was a clear conciliatory effort to address those two concerns head-on.
“The American people are depending on our agency,” Jacobs wrote. “There is no question in my mind that we will continue to provide expert analyses and predictions to keep Americans safe, and that all our line and staff offices will support the American public during these events. Our work saves lives.”
Jacobs added that he plans to visit forecast offices around the country to initiate a dialogue with staff.
Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, wrote in an email that Jacobs and NOAA are “taking the right steps to repair the damage” from this whole saga.
“The question will be whether Secretary Ross and the White House will make that same commitment,” Halpern wrote. “So far, their silence has been telling.”
House Democrats have launched an investigation into the matter, as have the Department of Commerce’s inspector general and NOAA’s acting chief scientist, Craig McLean. A key issue being probed is whether the NOAA statement violated the agency’s scientific integrity policy.
In the closing line of his email, Jacobs touched on that very topic: “Our team is committed to upholding scientific integrity.”