Storm Clouds Over the Nation’s Weather Forecaster
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Storm Clouds Over the Nation’s Weather Forecaster

Watchdogs Seek to Uncover Contacts Between Government Weather Agency and the Former CEO of AccuWeather

Sarah Okeson

Trump’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is stonewalling turning over records that could show whether Barry Lee Myers, Trump’s nominee to run NOAA, improperly tried to influence the agency after his family’s weather company mistakenly issued a tsunami warning.

Two nonprofits, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Center for Biological Diversity, have filed federal lawsuits seeking records about communications with agency employees.

Myers was first nominated to head NOAA by Trump in October 2017, but the full Senate hasn’t voted on him, in part because of concern about conflicts of interest.

Myers, then the CEO of AccuWeather, was first nominated by Trump in October 2017, but the full Senate didn’t vote on him that year or in 2018, in part because of concern about conflicts of interest involving AccuWeather. Myers resigned as CEO in January, but his family still owns the company.

False Tsunami Alert

In February 2018, AccuWeather screwed up and told subscribers on the East Coast, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean that a tsunami was coming after the National Weather Service sent out its routine monthly test titled “TEST…Tsunami Message Number 1…TEST.”

The PEER lawsuit said Myers and AccuWeather’s chief lobbyist, Tom Fahy, contacted NOAA after the bogus tsunami warning was sent out. The agency has balked at turning over handwritten records of phone calls between AccuWeather representatives and NOAA staff and executives, according to the lawsuit. AccuWeather said the National Weather Service had miscoded the warning.

ACTION BOX/What You Can Do About It

Contact your senators about Barry Myers.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility can be reached at 202-265-7337 or info@peer.org

U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu said in court documents that NOAA “has performed an adequate search for records.”

The center’s lawsuit asks for the communications and schedules of Stuart Levenbach, the NOAA chief of staff, “to reveal any improper political or industry influence on NOAA’s top decision-makers.”

NOAA oversees our country’s weather forecasting service which has fallen behind European forecasters. In 2017, our country’s best weather forecasters missed the path that Hurricane Irma would take by an average of about 194 nautical miles in their five-day forecasts, a difference more than twice as big as their European counterparts.

AccuWeather’s Cash Cow

AccuWeather has used NOAA as a cash cow, taking the taxpayer-funded free weather data to make its own predictions which it sells. Myers, a lawyer who, unlike most previous NOAA administrators, has no formal science background, could use the job of running NOAA to benefit the family business even more. He sold his stock in an agreement that lets the company or its shareholders buy it and won’t agree to recuse himself from all “particular matters” benefitting AccuWeather.

In April, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee once again voted to send Myers’s nomination to the full Senate. The vote was 14-12 along party lines with no debate.

One of the biggest opponents to Myers’ nomination, former Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), lost his re-election bid.

NOAA has not been without a Senate-confirmed administrator for this long since the agency was formed in 1970, but in this case, no confirmed leadership might be better than Myers’.

Featured image: Barry Myers (Photo by Abby Drey, Centre Daily Times)

June 28, 2019