Inside The Birmingham National Weather Service Office During Trump’s Attacks

President Donald Trump (R) references altered map showing Hurricane Dorian held by acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The employees at the Birmingham National Weather Service office are generally apolitical, abstaining from partisan talk in favor of backyard barbecues. A few weeks ago, on a skeleton-staffed Sunday, they were thrown into the spotlight.

According to the New York Times, staff members started fielding an influx of calls about Alabamians suddenly worried about Hurricane Dorian, despite the fact that the office had been steadily updating social media with assurances that the storm seemed to be veering east.

Then one employee, who reportedly had not seen the tweet from President Donald Trump that prompted the outcry, sent out a tweet to let locals know that they had nothing to worry about.

That started a prolonged news cycle with the small office at the center of the story, as Trump — and by extension, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross — worked to undermine the tweet and further the baseless conviction that Alabama was in danger from the storm. The National Weather Service put out an unsigned statement condemning the Birmingham office for speaking in “absolute terms.”

Pizza reinforcements were provided. Managers called employees at home to offer support.

“You try to navigate these tricky waters that science people are not used to navigating,” Kevin Laws, the office’s science and operations officer, told the Times. “What do you do in situations like this?”

Dear Reader,

When we asked recently what makes TPM different from other outlets, readers cited factors like honesty, curiosity, transparency, and our vibrant community. They also pointed to our ability to report on important stories and trends long before they are picked up by mainstream outlets; our ability to contextualize information within the arc of history; and our focus on the real-world consequences of the news.

Our unique approach to reporting and presenting the news, however, wouldn’t be possible without our readers’ support. That’s not just marketing speak, it’s true: our work would literally not be possible without readers deciding to become members. Not only does member support account for more than 80% of TPM’s revenue, our members have helped us build an engaged and informed community. Many of our best stories were born from reader tips and valuable member feedback.

We do what other news outlets can’t or won’t do because our members’ support gives us real independence.

If you enjoy reading TPM and value what we do, become a member today.

TPM Staff
Latest News
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Investigations Desk:
Director of Audience:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: