by Douglas Messier
Nearly three years into Donald Trump’s term as president, NOAA might actually get a permanent administrator.
On Wednesday, Trump nominated Neil Jacobs to serve as the Department of Commerce’s under secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere, which is another name for NOAA administrator.
Jacobs is serving as acting NOAA administrator in his current position as assistant secretary of commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction.
The nomination of Trump’s original choice, Barry Myers, had languished in the Senate without a full vote for two years before the nominee withdrew for health reasons last month.
The White House nomination includes the following summary of Jacobs’ qualifications:
Dr. Jacobs previously served as Chief Scientist at Panasonic, where he directed research and development of aviation weather observing and forecast programs.
Before joining Panasonic, Dr. Jacobs worked on various projects including NASA’s Earth Systems Science Program, the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite Program, and the Department of Energy’s Ocean Margins Program.
He was Chair of the American Meteorological Society’s Forecast Improvement Group, and served on the World Meteorological Organization’s observing systems expert team.
Dr. Jacobs holds bachelor degrees in mathematics and physics from the University of South Carolina and an M.S. in air-sea interaction and a Ph.D. in numerical weather prediction from North Carolina State University.
As acting NOAA administrator, Jacobs got caught in the middle of the president and the agency’s weather service in what has become known as SharpieGate.
As Hurricane Dorian approached the U.S. mainland on Sept. 1, Trump sent a tweet that Florida and other states “will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated.” Trump erroneously included Alabama, which the National Weather Service’s (NWS) updated forecast said would not be impacted by the storm.
Inundated with calls from panicky residents, the NWS office in Birmingham, Ala., tweeted out a correction a short time later. Officials in the office said they had not seen Trump’s tweet before correcting the record.
Trump was furious, insisting much of the week that he had been right. During a media event in the Oval Office, Trump held up a map showing the NWS’s projected track of the hurricane on which someone had drawn a semi-circle extending in black ink that extended the track into Alabama.
The Washington Post subsequently quoted sources as saying Trump had drawn the semi-circle on the map.
NOAA then issued an unsigned statement saying Trump had been right and criticizing the NWS Birmingham office for its tweet. Forecasters were furious over the statement, which they saw as political interference in a vital function that should be free of it.
Media reports say the statement was ordered by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross under pressure from the White House. There were calls for Ross to resign.
The incident has spawned separate investigations by NOAA’s acting chief scientist, the Commerce Department’s Office of Inspector General, and the House Science Committee.
In her third letter to Ross on Dec. 10, House Science Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson said the Commerce Department has provided “no responsive materials” to assist in the committee’s investigation “despite repeated follow-up phone calls and emails to the Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs.”
Opponents of Myers nomination to head NOAA were concerned about possible conflicts of interest over his co-ownership of AccuWeather, a private weather forecasting company. run by Jacobs’ family.
Opposition persisted despite Myers selling off his interest in AccuWeather earlier this year. His family continues to run the company.