Sharpiegate: A Chronology

The Aeolus satellite passed close to Hurricane Dorian as the storm stalled over the Bahamas, as shown in this image from NASA’s Aqua satellite taken at 1805 UTC on 1 September 2019. The red line has been superimposed to indicate Aeolus’s path. The Aeolus wind data for that path and beyond, from about 6°N to 42°N, are shown below. (Credit: NASA)

NOAA Hurricane Advisory
Sept. 1, 2019
8 a.m.

Hurricane Dorian forecast at 8 a.m. on Sept. 1, 2019. (Credit: NOAA)

The NOAA advisory issued on Sept. 1 at 8 a.m. EDT showed up to a 10 percent probability of tropical storm force winds stronger than 39 mph lasting an average of 1 minute for a small portion of southeastern Alabama.

Tweet by President Donald Trump
Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019
10:51 a.m. EDT

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!

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Sharpiegate: OIG Report Slams Commerce, NOAA & White House for Hurricane Dorian Actions

President Donald Trump redraws Hurricane Dorian’s path after the fact.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A government review of the Sharpiegate scandal has concluded that Commerce Department officials erred last year when they forced NOAA to issue a statement last year criticizing the National Weather Service (NWS) and backing President Donald Trump’s erroneous forecast regarding Hurricane Dorian impact’s on Alabama.

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Sharpiegate: Commerce OIG Summary of Findings on Hurricane Dorian Statement

This Copernicus Sentinel-3 image features Hurricane Dorian as it pummels the Bahamas on 2 September 2019 at 15:16 GMT (11:16 EDT). (Credit: ESA)

Evaluation of NOAA’s September 6, 2019, Statement About
Hurricane Dorian Forecasts
FINAL REPORT NO. OIG-20-032-I
JUNE 26, 2020

U.S. Department of Commerce
Office of Inspector General

June 26, 2019

INFORMATION MEMORANDUM FOR SECRETARY [WILBUR] ROSS

From: Peggy E. Gustafson
Inspector General

RE: Evaluation of NOAA’s September 6, 2019, Statement About Hurricane Dorian Forecasts
Final Report No. OIG-20-032-1

On Friday, September 6, 2019–the day Hurricane Dorian made landfall in the United States as a Category 1 hurricane–the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued an unsighed statement (Statement) [redacted at Department’s request while the Department and its interagency stakeholders complete a pending privilege review] The statement rebuked the NOAA National Weather Service’s (NWS’s) Birmingham, Alabama, office (NWS Birmingham) for a September 1, 2019, tweet that advised that “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian” [redacted at Department’s request while the Department and its interagency stakeholders complete a pending privilege review]

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Sharpiegate: Commerce OIG Memo Accusing Commerce Officials of Blocking Hurricane Dorian Report

NASA astronaut Christina Koch snapped this image of Hurricane Dorian from the International Space Station as it flew more than 200 miles above the storm on Sept. 2, 2019. (Credits: NASA/Christina Koch)

July 1, 2020

INFORMATION MEMORANDUM FOR SECRETARY [WILBUR] ROSS

FROM: Peggy E. Gustafson
Inspector General

SUBJECT: The Department Is Actively Preventing OIG from Completing an Evaluation

This memorandum expresses my deep concern that the Department is failing to identify specific privileges and provide privilege markings to a U.S. Department of Commerce Office of Inspector General (OIG) evaluation, while claiming amorphous and generalized privileges, which effectively prevent us from publicly releasing the evaluation that is otherwise ready for release. Under the Inspector General Act of 1978, as amended, 5 U.S.C. App. (IG Act), OIG is an “independent and objective” unit created “to conduct and supervise audits and investigations relating to the programs and operations” of the Department.1 To promote and maintain this independence, the IG Act prohibits you or your staff from preventing OIG from carrying out or completing our work.2 Further, “[i]t is Department policy that all employees fully cooperate with the OIG” in its evaluations.3 This policy requires that all Department employees “shall make every effort to assist the OIG.” 4 As described below, that full cooperation and assistance is absent here.

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Sharpiegate: IG Accuses Commerce Officials of Blocking Release of Critical Hurricane Dorian Report

President Donald Trump redraws Hurricane Dorian’s path after the fact.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Department of Commerce’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) has publicly accused department officials of preventing the public release of a report critical of actions taken by high-level department officials during hurricane Dorian last September.

In a memorandum to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross posted on the OIG website, Inspector General (IG) Peggy E. Gustafson said officials have held up the report by refusing to identify specific sections that should be redacted because they contain privileged information.

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NOAA Claims $735 Million in Savings on Polar Follow-On Satellite Program

NOAA has reported that it has found $735 million in savings in the Polar Follow-on (PFO) weather satellite program.

In a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), NOAA Acting Administrator Neil Jacobs said the program life cycle cost (LCC) has been reduced from $7.57 billion to $6.84 billion for fiscal years 2016 through 2038.

“The PFO Program has performed exceptionally well and the new LCC has sufficient cost and schedule margin to mitigate risk due to the improved posture,” Jacobs wrote.

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NOAA Harnessing Power of New Satellite Data this Hurricane Season

Hurricane Humberto (Credit: NOAA)

SILVER SPRING, Md. (NOAA PR) — With predictions for an above-normal 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, NOAA forecasters have added meteorological muscle from a new  combination of satellite data flowing into its computer models. 

The Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere and Climate (COSMIC-2) is a new fleet of six small satellites launched last June. Since May 26, the constellation has begun feeding more than 4,000 vertical sets of measurements of atmospheric temperature and humidity in the tropics and subtropics daily into our forecast models. Measuring the moisture in and around tropical cyclones is important because it is a key ingredient for their development and intensification.

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Senate Committee Approves Jacobs as NOAA Administrator

Neil Jacobs

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NOAA might finally get a permanent — if that is the right word –administrator more than three years into President Donald Trump’s four-year term.

The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation approved the nomination of Neil Jacobs to become under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, a position that includes serving as NOAA administrator.

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Trump Nominates Jacobs as NOAA Administrator

Neil Jacobs

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Nearly three years into Donald Trump’s term as president, NOAA might actually get a permanent administrator.

On Wednesday, Trump nominated Neil Jacobs to serve as the Department of Commerce’s under secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere, which is another name for NOAA administrator.

Jacobs is serving as acting NOAA administrator in his current position as assistant secretary of commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction.

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Johnson: Commerce Dept Not Cooperating with SharpieGate Investigation

President Donald Trump redraws Hurricane Dorian’s path after the fact.

WASHINGTON, DC (House Science Committee PR) – Today, Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) sent a follow up letter to Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on the Department’s involvement in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) actions surrounding claims that Hurricane Dorian would impact Alabama. This letter follows up on the Chairwoman’s September 11 and October 10  requests for information.

“To date, we have received no responsive materials from the Department that would address the items in either of these letters, despite repeated follow-up phone calls and emails to the Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs,” Chairwoman Johnson said in the letter. “The Department of Commerce’s communications with the public on weather forecasting is a critical government function that depends on the public trust in order to ensure the health and safety of all Americans. The Department’s refusals to give a public explanation for its actions in early September and to cooperate with Congressional oversight after the fact are harmful to our national weather enterprise.”

A full copy of the letter can be found here.

NOAA Mishap Board Completes Investigation into NOAA’s GOES-17 ABI Anomaly

The GOES-S satellite being lowered into a thermal vacuum chamber. (Credit: Lockheed Martin)

WASHINGTON, DC (NOAA PR) — A blockage in the loop heat pipe of the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI), the primary instrument on NOAA’s GOES-17 satellite, prevented the instrument from cooling properly and impeded its ability to collect data, according to a special Mishap Investigation Board.

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NOAA Chief Scientist Praises Forecasters, Calls Statement Backing Trump Inappropriate, Political

Craig McLean

This following is the original message Craig McLean, NOAA Research Assistant Administrator, sent to all NOAA Research employees on the morning of Monday, September 9th regarding Hurricane Dorian and its wide-ranging impacts.

Dear Colleagues,

The fierce storm we know as Hurricane Dorian has concluded its ferocious path through the Bahamas and along the U.S. East Coast. Many of you have contributed to the excellent science that has underpinned the forecasts and current understanding of storms such as this one, which accelerated quite rapidly in intensity. The storm also presented challenges in track which improved with enhanced observations. 

We know that our collective work, from the scientists in the aircraft penetrating the storm, to the scientists deploying the glider picket line, to the modelers and folks working the physics of the storms, across OAR and in our CI’S, and across all NOAA Lines, we are working the problem in order to give the NWS forecasters the best tools we possibly can to keep America and our neighbors safe. Thank you. 

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House Science Committee Chairwoman Blasts Ross, Trump on Hurricane Dorian Actions

Eddie Bernice Johnson

WASHINGTON, DC, September 10, 2019 – Yesterday, the New York Times reported “Secretary of Commerce threatened to fire top employees at NOAA on Friday after the agency’s Birmingham office contradicted President Trump’s claim that Hurricane Dorian might hit Alabama, according to three people familiar with the discussion.”

Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) made the following statement.

“I am extremely disturbed by the directive that NOAA leadership sent on September 6, which threatens the integrity and public trust of weather forecasts at the peak of Hurricane season. I am even more distressed to learn that political interference from the Secretary of Commerce may be behind the directive. The Committee will pursue this issue and we expect full cooperation from the Department of Commerce in our efforts. I would remind Department employees of the whistleblower protections afforded them by law. Any employees with information are welcome to share anonymously via the Committee Whistleblower Page.”

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Report: Wilbur Ross Threatened Firings at NOAA Over Sharpiegate

Wilbur Ross

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The New York Times reports that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross threatened to fire top officials at NOAA unless they backed President Donald Trump’s claim that he was right when he tweeted about Hurricane Dorian threatening Alabama with worse damage than anticipated.

Meanwhile, NOAA’s top scientist is investigating whether the statement backing Trump’s claim violates the agency’s scientific integrity rules.

Trump tweeted on Sept. 1 that Alabama would be one of the states hit by the Category 5 storm. The warning was quickly contradicted by the National Weather Service’s office in Birmingham, Ala.

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