A series of emails released under a Freedom of Information Act request show that National Weather Service forecasters publicly knocked down talk that Hurricane Dorian might threaten the Alabama Gulf Coast without knowing that President Donald Trump had heightened concerns by mentioning a possible threat to the Yellowhammer State twenty minutes earlier.
"The day shift did not know what precipitated this escalation in calls/social media questions," wrote Chris Darden, in charge of the National Weather Service office in Birmingham, Alabama.
"It was later learned that the uptick in calls/concern regarding Alabama may have been related to a White House tweet earlier in the day," Darden told others by email on Sunday, September 1.
"It was directly in response to the increase in calls from anxious and panicked citizens," Darden wrote.
The calls led the Birmingham office to send out a tweet, twenty minutes after the President wrongly included Alabama as being under a direct threat from Hurricane Dorian.
In addition to Florida - South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated. Looking like one of the largest hurricanes ever. Already category 5. BE CAREFUL! GOD BLESS EVERYONE!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 1, 2019
In a series of agency emails made public this week, the Birmingham, Alabama office - and other Weather Service officials - repeatedly say that the forecasters had no idea they were getting worried calls and messages because of the President's tweet.
"Some in media assumed, understandably so, that our social media posts were a direct response to the WH (White House) post," Darden wrote in an email. "In fact, they were not as we were not even aware of them at the time."
But as the news media focused on the matter - and the President refused to back down in the days after the tweets - by that Friday, officials issued a public rebuke of the Birmingham office.
"The Birmingham National Weather Service's Sunday morning tweet spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time," the statement read.
NOAA releases a Friday evening, unattributed statement disavowing the NWS Birmingham tweet from Sunday saying Dorian wasn’t going to impact Alabama. pic.twitter.com/4OfuM6iESo— Allan Smith (@akarl_smith) September 6, 2019
The dustup ultimately led to President Trump presenting a weather map in his defense, which included an extra area - marked by a black marker - to show that there was a threat to Alabama.
Other emails made public from the Weather Service included complaints from fellow employees about the public rebuke of the Birmingham office.
“This statement is deeply upsetting to NOAA employees that have worked the hurricane and not fully accurate based on the timeline in question,” wrote one NOAA worker in Maryland.
Also included were angry emails from people outside of the Weather Service, who accused NOAA officials of giving in to the President.
“You should resign immediately,” one woman wrote. “You should make yourself legit by getting a job in Trump's reelection campaign.”