Last month, Jamie Rhome, the current Acting Director of the National Hurricane Center (NHC), effectively rejected settled climate science while discussing the then-potential severity and impact of Hurricane Ian. In that interview, Rhome said he would “caution against” linking the intensity of Hurricane Ian to climate change. To be clear, there is no question or ambiguity on this link. The worsening severity of extreme weather events as a result of climate change is something that has been firmly established, for years, by other federal agencies – like NASA – and also by international research bodies – like the National Academies – which makes Rhome’s refusal to do so all the more baffling.
Rhome’s refusal to publicly affirm settled science is deeply concerning rhetoric to see from any federal official, but it is specifically unsettling to hear from one of our nation’s top federal disaster response officials. When Rhome peddles in climate misinformation, or creates room for climate misinformation by refusing to affirm scientific fact, he not only throws legitimacy behind falsities but also imperils the very communities most impacted by these (worsening) extreme weather events.
The NHC, which is housed within the Department of Commerce, is charged with crucial preparedness authorities and with coordinating federal and state emergency responses to the emergence of hurricanes. Of course, the NHC is increasingly important given the escalating frequency and severity of hurricanes across the country. Our country, and its coastal communities, cannot afford to have anything less than an ardent climate defender – indeed, an ardent defender of science – at the helm of these critical emergency preparedness and response institutions.
Regardless of why Rhome has proven himself unwilling to articulate climate truth publicly, repeating climate denialism on national television is dangerous and unacceptable for any federal official, let alone one with such proximity to climate change and its consequences. As a result of Rhome’s self disqualification, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo should remove Rhome from running the NHC and replace him with a scientist who accepts settled science, who understands the impact of climate change on hurricanes, and who is willing to publicly defend scientific fact.