After President Donald Trump insisted on Sept. 1 that, contrary to National Weather Service (NWS) forecasts, Hurricane Dorian would hit Alabama “harder than expected,” the agency’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) leadership publicly defended him and instructed forecasters in internal memos not to contradict his claims, according to The Washington Post. Several staffers have since pushed back, and NOAA’s chief scientist on Sept. 9 vowed to investigate whether the move constitutes a violation of the agency’s principles.
The episode is the latest example of how NOAA, and the NWS within it, is reportedly facing unprecedented political pressures under the current administration that could threaten public forecasting operations.
NOAA has been without a permanent leader for more than a year, and Trump’s pick for the position, former AccuWeather CEO Barry Myers, has no formal scientific training and a long history of lobbying against the NWS’ free dissemination of weather data in a bid to gain more paying AccuWeather subscribers. Trump has also proposed cutting NOAA’s budget by nearly $1 billion this year. (See Adweek’s cover story on weather data here.)
Businesses relying on access to free weather data are in the direct path of this brewing storm. Despite the growing availability of cheaper meteorological equipment, most private forecasters still use NWS data as the foundation onto which they add their own forecast insights. IBM’s Weather Company, poised to be the biggest player in this category, is one of them.