President Trump took a swing at meteorologists at a Wisconsin rally Saturday, calling out weather forecasters for a bad prediction. The only problem? The forecast was on the mark.
Thousands crammed into Resch Center in Green Bay for the weekend rally. After greeting supporters and launching jests at politicians he has nicknamed in the 2020 race, Trump’s remarks turned to the weather.
“They thought you were going to have a big snowstorm,” jeered Trump, crowds erupting into roaring cheers. “A big, big snowstorm. The people that get it wrong the most are the weather forecasters and the political analysts.”
But the forecast wasn’t wrong. There was a storm, but hundreds of miles to the south. Wet snow blanketed southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois, including Chicago. The system was not expected to hit northern Wisconsin.
It is not apparent to whom the president was referring when he said “they.”
Green Bay was never under a winter storm warning, winter storm watch or even a winter weather advisory. The “big, big” snow totals the president referenced simply were never predicted by any commercial or government weather agency.
On Thursday afternoon, the National Weather Service in Green Bay tweeted a graphic mapping prognosticated snowfall accumulations for the upcoming Saturday storm.
“Higher chances are forecast to be down-state at this time,” wrote the Weather Service, its map depicting a “no accumulations forecast” zone extending into Green Bay. A similar graphic was posted on social media Friday.
In an email, Jeff Last, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Green Bay, wrote there was uncertainty early in the week as to exactly where the storm would track but that it became clear by Thursday that snow was not a significant concern for the area.
“On Thursday, we were forecasting the potential for a light accumulation of snow on grassy areas for Saturday, mainly south of Green Bay,” Last said. “The snow accumulation threat was removed with the Friday update. The forecast for late Saturday was for dry weather.”
The official total at Green Bay Austin Straubel International Airport was measured to be 0.0 inches — exactly as forecast. The last time it saw snow was April 13.
But Trump insisted he had heard a storm was en route, claiming his team cautioned the event may be canceled. “They said ‘we may have to cancel.’ I said ‘like hell we’re gonna cancel.' People were standing out there 24 hours ago, 32 hours ago outside.”
Shortly thereafter, Trump pivoted the conversation to the quality of front-row seats those adjacent to the president had scored.
Meteorologists weren’t happy about being thrown under the bus. It’s one thing to be shamed for a bad forecast. It’s another to be called out for a really good one.
“After my initial eye roll, I would be interested to hear from the (nameless) meteorologist who insisted the rally be canceled,” wrote Jacob Wycoff, a meteorologist at WBZ-TV in Boston. “My guess is that person doesn’t exist.”
Marshall Shepherd, a former president of the American Meteorological Society, said we’re living in “a time when forecast skill is at its highest.”
He said he was disappointed to see meteorologists undermined and used as a political prop, writing: “I feel for our federal and private sector colleagues that forecast on our behalf.”
The ability of meteorologists has never been better. Take hurricane tracking, for instance. Forecasts for hurricane position made five days in advance nowadays are more accurate than those issued 48 hours out in the 1970s. The National Hurricane Center’s forecasts in 2017 were its best on record; the numbers for 2018 have not been released.
But these strides may not continue to be the case going forward.
Although the Trump administration has developed a plan to improve the nation’s main weather forecasting model, it has proposed cutting the budget at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) by 18 percent, and slashing 250 forecasting jobs at NOAA’s National Weather Service.
The administration has also prioritized plans to develop infrastructure for 5G wireless technology despite concerns from scientists that it could interfere with critical satellite data used in forecasts.
Trump’s pick to lead NOAA — Barry Myers — while yet to be confirmed, is opposed by several past NOAA heads for lacking science credentials and having potential conflicts of interest. Myers sparred with the National Weather Service for decades as counsel and chief executive at AccuWeather, his family business. He sought to limit the scope of the Weather Service’s responsibilities to expand opportunities in the private sector.
Jason Samenow contributed to this report.