Science, the state and professional vision in the constitution of weather


  • Mariaelena Bartesaghi University of South Florida
  • Leanna Smithberger Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa
  • Kusherniva Laurent Scripps College
  • Kristina Martinez Central New Mexico Community College
  • Sydney Stewart Vanderbilt University



professional vision, weather, seeing, Hurricane Dorian, science, state


In this article, we use the case of Hurricane Dorian, which hit the southeastern United States in 2019, to expand on the scholarship about professional vision by taking up how weather is materialized in the negotiation of seeing between members of the scientific community and the state. Attending to the controversy known popularly as Sharpiegate, in which President Donald Trump, the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Birmingham (Alabama) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) offered conflicting accounts of Hurricane Dorian’s predicted path, we use discourse analysis to examine four tweets, a NOAA official statement and the Commerce Department’s investigative report to show how institutional actors negotiated their entitlement to see, accounts of what was seen and accountability to their claims as seers. We argue that Sharpiegate significantly disrupted the relationship between science and the state, which depends upon scientists’ professional re-semiotizing of hurricanes in images which the state can use to legitimize its crisis response. Our findings show how NOAA and the Commerce Department utilize strategic ambiguity, distributed agency and accountability and the careful maintenance of boundaries in their claims of what was seen and what counts as legitimate seeing in weather forecasting.

Author Biographies

Mariaelena Bartesaghi, University of South Florida

Mariaelena Bartesaghi is an Associate Professor of Communication at the University of South Florida. She studies authority in institutional settings. She has published in Discourse Studies, Review of Communication, Communication & Medicine and Language Under Discussion, among other journals. Address for correspondence: Department of Communication University of South Florida, 4202 East Fowler Ave, Tampa, FL 33620, USA. Email: [email protected]

Leanna Smithberger, Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa

Leanna Smithberger is the Postdoctoral Affairs Program Administrator at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida. She studies environmental communication, dialogue, and performance. She has published in Kaleidoscope: A Graduate Journal of Qualitative Communication Research, the Florida Communication Journal, the Communication Center Journal and the Journal of Deliberative Democracy.

Kusherniva Laurent, Scripps College

Kushnerniva Laurent is pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Science at Scripps College in Claremont, California. Her research interests include natural hazards, social vulnerability and disaster studies.

Kristina Martinez, Central New Mexico Community College

Kristina Martinez is pursuing her Associate of Arts degree in Communications at Central New Mexico Community College, where she studies issues of power and representation.

Sydney Stewart, Vanderbilt University

Sydney Stewart is pursuing her Bachelor of Arts degree at Vanderbilt University, where she is double majoring in African American and Diaspora Studies, and Human Organizational Development with a concentration in Community Development and Communications. She is interested in communication pathways, emerging adulthood and black women, and hip-hop and black women rappers.


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How to Cite

Bartesaghi, M., Smithberger, L., Laurent, K., Martinez, K., & Stewart, S. (2023). Sharpiegate: Science, the state and professional vision in the constitution of weather. Journal of Applied Linguistics and Professional Practice, 17(1), 1–25.