U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross threatened to fire top weather experts for contradicting President Donald Trump's faulty forecast of Hurricane Dorian striking Alabama, The New York Times reported Monday.
While a very early forecast map by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed a slight chance Dorian would sweep across Alabama, all revised forecasts said the state would see no impact from the storm.
But Trump sent out numerous tweets insisting Alabama would be hit "harder than anticipated."
A National Weather Service tweet immediately followed one of Trump's, saying, "No impacts from Hurricane Dorian will be felt in Alabama."
But Trump continued to insist he was correct, displaying a now infamous NOAA map altered with a Sharpie pen to put Alabama in the forecast path. Falsifying an official weather forecast and sending it out to the public is a federal crime.
According to the Times, Ross telephoned acting NOAA chief Neil Jacobs from Greece, ordering him to stop contradicting Trump and repair the damage that may have been done to the president.
When Jacobs objected, Ross said political appointees at NOAA would be fired.
The threat was followed by an unsigned NOAA press release last Friday criticizing the National Weather Service's Birmingham, Alabama, office for contradicting Trump. The press release also disavowed forecasts showing Alabama would be safe.
According to the newspaper, an unnamed administration official said Alabama forecasters were only looking to embarrass the president and had no concern for the safety of the people of the state. The official provided no evidence to back his conclusion.
A Commerce Department spokesperson called the Times story "false" saying in a statement that "Secretary Ross did not threaten to fire any NOAA staff over forecasting and public statements about Hurricane Dorian."
But Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer accused Ross of "thuggish behavior...to force scientists to bow down in obeisance to an anti-science president," and New York Democratic Congressman Paul Tonko said Ross should resign.
Some scientists inside NOAA are reportedly outraged at the tempest swirling around the storm controversy.
Acting chief scientist Craig McLean wrote in an email to agency staffers that he is "pursuing potential violations" of the agency's policy of scientific integrity.
"This intervention to contradict the forecaster was not based on science but on external factors, including reputation and appearance. Or simply put, political," he wrote.
National Weather Service forecasters from the Birmingham office got a standing ovation at an annual meeting of meteorologists Monday when NWS director Louis Uccellini praised them for accurate Dorian forecasts and making public safety their priority.
Hurricane Dorian struck the U.S. southeast coast last week after ravaging the Bahamas, but it never approached Alabama.