89.1 WEMU

Scientists Says Politicization Of The Weather Will Not Affect How They Do Their Jobs

Sep 9, 2019
Originally published on September 9, 2019 7:44 pm
Copyright 2019 WBHM 90.3 FM. To see more, visit WBHM 90.3 FM.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The top scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says he's investigating why his agency's leadership endorsed President Trump's tweet about Alabama and Hurricane Dorian. Trump had falsely said that Alabama was in the hurricane's path. Weather officials in Alabama then told residents there was nothing to worry about. And for that, they got reprimanded by NOAA. This week, scientists are meeting at the National Weather Association conference in Huntsville, Ala. And WBHM's Mary Scott Hodgin says many of them are outraged.

MARY SCOTT HODGIN, BYLINE: Meteorologists and forecasters from across the country are gathered in Huntsville, Ala., to learn about emergency preparedness and the latest radar models. But attendees say the recent news has stolen some of the spotlight.

LARRY RICE: It's the big hot potato right now in government.

MILES MUZIO: The big elephant in the room.

RICE: Yeah, the big elephant in the room.

HODGIN: That's Larry Rice and Miles Muzio, both meteorologists. For these scientists and others at this year's meeting, it's been frustrating to watch the nation's top officials debate the validity of a weather forecast. Muzio, who's from Bakersfield, Calif., says it's all just political noise.

MUZIO: I don't even listen to it. It rolls right off my back. I know that the National Weather Service does a great job. They're the professionals that we all expect.

HODGIN: But the drama has sparked tension at the meeting according to Alan Sealls. He's a meteorologist from Mobile, Ala.

ALAN SEALLS: So a lot of people are offended personally and professionally.

HODGIN: This morning, the director of the National Weather Service applauded Birmingham forecasters for prioritizing public safety. Tomorrow, the acting administrator of NOAA is scheduled to speak. Many have criticized the agency for siding with Trump over the organization's own scientists.

SEALLS: I've heard second- and thirdhand that some people would do some sort of protest, whether it's walking out of a session or wearing something that says something.

HODGIN: Sealls says, ultimately, he's just disappointed that there was confusion about a forecast.

SEALLS: In recent years, too many things are politicized that shouldn't be. Gravity is gravity. Heat is heat.

HODGIN: And he says weather is based on science.

During a session of the meeting on Sunday, attendees practice a simulated emergency response. Janice Bunting is the CEO of the National Weather Association. She says the focus is on communication and safety.

JANICE BUNTING: We're working to become better forecasters. That's our goal. We like to be right.

HODGIN: Because, she says, an accurate and timely weather forecast saves lives.

For NPR News, I'm Mary Scott Hodgin in Huntsville, Ala.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.