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?”