The head of the union that represents federal weather workers said Friday that his members are “shocked, stunned and irate” that the federal agency whose workers they represent put out a statement siding with President Trump in the increasingly bizarre dispute over whether Hurricane Dorian was on track to hit Alabama.
“Never ever before has their management thrown them under the bus like this,” said Dan Sobien, president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization, which represents 4,000 employees under the umbrella of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
“These are the people risking their lives flying into hurricanes and putting out forecasts that save lives. Never before has their management undercut their scientifically sound reasoning and forecasts,” Sobien told The Daily Beast.
Sobien’s reaction is the latest development in a storm-fueled sideshow that has consumed the president for much of the week and been dubbed “Sharpie-gate.”
It began Sunday, when President Trump tweeted out that Dorian was expected to hit Alabama—and the NWS’s Birmingham office posted a correction:
Then on Wednesday, Trump held up a weather map in the Oval Office that showed the track of the storm, outlined in white. It appeared someone had used a black marker, like the ones Trump favors, to extend that track into Alabama.
Since then, Trump has dug in his heels, blasting out multiple tweets insisting that Dorian was forecast to hit Alabama and issuing a statement from his Homeland Security Adviser that backed up his version.
Then on Friday came the statement from an unnamed spokesperson that said the NOAA and the National Hurricane Center had given Trump information that “demonstrated that tropical-storm-force winds from Hurricane Dorian could impact Alabama.”
The statement went on to criticize the Birmingham office’s Sunday tweet, saying it “spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.”
Soon after, Sobien issued a tweet about the NOAA statement: “I have never been so embarrassed by NOAA. What they did is just disgusting.”
He later told The Daily Beast that in a Facebook group discussion, workers were so upset they were talking about defacing their NOAA T-shirts with a Sharpie. More seriously, they worried the statement could have real-life consequences.
“What is very important is when the NWS issues a hurricane warning or flash flood warning—it’s very important [that] everyone is on the same page. It’s hard enough to convince people to evacuate or take cover. If you have confusion, it could be very bad.”
“Are people not going to believe the Hurricane Center or our forecasts now?”