Neil Jacobs said a statement criticizing the Alabama office that disagreed with Trump was meant to clarify technical aspects
The head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) appeared close to tears on Tuesday, as he both defended the administration and thanked a local weather office that contradicted Donald Trumps claims about Hurricane Dorian threatening Alabama.
Neil Jacobs, the acting administrator, told a meteorology group a Noaa statement that criticized the Birmingham-area forecast office after it disagreed with the president was meant to clarify technical aspects about Dorians potential impact.
What it did not say, however, was that we understood and fully support the good intent of the weather office, which was to calm fears in support of public safety, said Jacobs.
Trump insisted he had been accurate, going so far as to display in the Oval Office a map that had been altered with a Sharpie, or marker pen, to show Dorians cone extending to Alabama.
On Monday the New York Times reported that the US commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, called Jacobs and warned that heads would roll unless the disagreement with Trump was smoothed over.
In Washington, Ross faced calls to resign.
In Huntsville, Alabama, Jacobs, a career meteorologist, appeared near tears at the lectern as he thanked the Birmingham office and mentioned Kevin Laws, a staff leader in the audience.
This is hard for me, said Jacobs, his voice choked.
Laws, science and operations officer with the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Birmingham, said he appreciated the remarks by Jacobs, who he has known for 20 years.
Absolutely no hard feelings, Laws said.
Some forecasters had talked about walking out on Jacobs speech or staging some sort of protest but there was no demonstration and he received polite applause.
Trump tweeted about Dorian threatening Alabama on 1 September, apparently relying on information that was several days old. Laws said forecasters working in the Birmingham office were having a quiet morning when the phones suddenly lit up.
We got calls about people having surgery and should they cancel. We got calls about Should I go get my elderly parents? There were so many concerns, he said in an interview.
The office then issued a tweet of its own saying Alabama wasnt at risk. Forecasters didnt know what had happened, Laws said, until reaction started on social media, where some accused the staff of attempting to embarrass Trump.
We realized there was more to this than we first thought, he said.
Jacobs said Dorian presented forecasters with a particularly difficult challenge and noted that early on, Alabama was in the mix, as was the rest of the south-east.
Jacobs remarks came a day after the NWS director, Louis Uccellini, said forecasters in Birmingham did the right thing, aiming to reassure the public. Laws declined to say who sent the tweet that contradicted Trump.
It came from all of us, he said.