In early September 2019, President Donald J. Trump tweeted something dumb. Specifically, this time it was about the encroaching Hurricane Dorian, and the places that it would or would not hit.
At the time, there was no indication that it was ever going to hit Alabama. But Trump's stubborn ego — so unwilling to admit to, well, anything — turned life into hell for the National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It reached a point where Trump literally drew on a map with a sharpie to make it look like he'd been right all along, and the central office of the NOAA was publicly disavowing efforts by the Birmingham, Alabama office of the NWA to deliver accurate information to the very same people who would potentially stand in harm's way, or who might be tempted to make irrational decisions in a panic over the president's false information.
In short, it was a perfect microcosmic storm of everything wrong with the Trump administration.
This past Friday, January 31, the NWA and NOAA released a trove of 1,000 emails relating to the incident, revealing the panic behind the scenes as different government agencies found themselves torn between protecting the public, and protecting the president's fragile ego.
One NOAA administrator wrote (emphasis added):
For an agency founded upon and recognized for determining scientific truths, trusted by the public, and responsible in law to put forward important science information, I find it unconscionable that an anonymous voice inside of NOAA would be found to castigate a dutiful, correct, and loyal NWS Forecaster who spoke the truth. What concerns me most is that this Administration is eroding the public trust in NOAA for an apparent political recovery from an ill timed and imprecise comment from the President.
Another administrator said (again, emphasis added):
This whole thing is being blown way out of proportion and politicized. The so-called tweet said absolutely no chance of impacts and NHC guidance was calling for 5-30%. The forecast office did the right thing to calm the nerves of citizens. I love NOAA. I am so proud of everything you all do. You have no idea how hard I’m fighting to keep politics out of science. We are an objective science agency, and we won’t and never will base any decisions on anything other than science.
One senior NOAA biologist, swrote over email:
Please reassure those of us who serve the public, and do so with commitment and humility that we are not mere pawns in an absurd game. Please do not allow the science and support that we perform on behalf of the American public to be tossed into the trash heap by political expediencies. Please support us and stand with us. Please.
In short: it was every bit as bad as it looked on the outside, and maybe even worse.
“HELP!!!” Internal #SharpieGate Emails Show Officials Panicked Over Trump’s “Doctored” Hurricane Map [Zahra Hirji and Jason Leopold / Buzzfeed News]
New emails show how President Trump roiled NOAA during Hurricane Dorian [Andrew Freedman / The Washington Post]