Orwell’s fictional Ministry of Truth just became real at the NOAA

The Sharpie is mightier than science?
The Sharpie is mightier than science?
Image: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

For victims of Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas, where the storm wrought devastation and death, Donald Trump’s relentless tweets as weatherman-in-chief this week were a mere distraction from the hard facts of destruction. However, in the US, which was spared the worst of the storm, the president’s insistence on a previously unsupported claim that Dorian would impact Alabama appears to have led to a different kind of frightening development.

It seems that the president who accuses the media of perpetuating fake news turned a scientific organization into the Ministry of Truth, proving George Orwell’s fictional account of a propaganda department that rewrites facts based on state whims in the novel 1984 is officially reality in the US in 2019.

On Sept. 6, late on a Friday afternoon, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a cryptic and unattributed statement. It wrote:

From Wednesday, August 28, through Monday, September 2, the information provided by NOAA and the National Hurricane Center to President Trump and the wider public demonstrated that tropical-storm-force winds from Hurricane Dorian could impact Alabama. This is clearly demonstrated in Hurricane Advisories #15 through #41, which can be viewed at the following link.

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.

What makes this both unusual and disconcerting is that the NOAA statement seems to indicate that the agency is politicizing weather reports about a deadly storm to support Trump’s false forecast. The president at a news briefing last Sunday (Sept. 1) insisted that Dorian threatened Alabama, a fact that was disputed by the local branch of the National Weather Service. It tweeted a correction to reassure residents, stating that no storm impacts will be felt across Alabama.

Trump was upset about this and took to Twitter to insist he was right over the course of the week. To prove he wasn’t wrong, Trump on Wednesday released an image of a map showing the advancing storm, evidently doctored by hand with a marker, showing the hurricane heading Alabama’s way. When asked about the handwritten addition to the map, the president said he didn’t know who drew it, which The Atlantic called a “pointless lie” because it fooled no one, was already a moot point by the time the map was presented, and used a graphic about the storm produced three days before his warning about the alleged breaking news for Alabama.

Despite the pointlessness of this exercise, Trump continued to insist on his version of the truth on Friday, the same day the NOAA issued its statement, arguing that the “Fake News Media” went “Crazy” hoping he made a mistake.

Now, the NOAA is saying that the president’s forecast trumps scientists’ predictions, which means that not even weather reports during storms—a thing it seemed people of all political ideologies could agree upon as factual and valuable until now—can be trusted. Meteorologist and former NOAA COO David Titley called it “perhaps the darkest day” for the agency’s leadership on Twitter.

It’s a new low in politics and forecasting, and a sign that the greatest danger Americans currently face comes not from deadly hurricane winds but from blowhards in power.