- Trump has spent the last several days doubling down on his claim that Hurricane Dorian could strike parts of Alabama, despite the state no longer being in the hurricane’s path at the time he made the claim.
- The president’s confusion stemmed from earlier forecasts that showed a slight probability of tropical-storm-force winds affecting Alabama, but Trump has since used his misstatement and the reporting on it to boost his narrative that news media is unfairly attacking him.
- The National Hurricane Centre corrected the president, who has since used video manipulation and outdated maps marked with Sharpie to support his false claim, within 20 minutes of his initial incorrect tweet.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
What started out as a clear misunderstanding on President Donald Trump’s part has morphed into him attacking the media for reporting on his false claim. In the process of using his Twitter account to retweet official Hurricane Dorian forecasts from the National Hurricane Centre, Trump incorrectly stated on Sunday that the storm could hit Alabama.
Despite being corrected within 20 minutes by the National Weather Service, Trump went on to lash out repeatedly against journalists who reported on his false claim, defending himself via outdated maps, video manipulation, and even with a six-day-old map that he had been altered with a Sharpie marker.
Here’s how Trump’s confusion over Alabama and Hurricane Dorian’s trajectory originated, and a timeline of what has happened since, as he continues to double down on his misstatement and attack the news media.
Friday, August 30:
On August 30, the NHC tweeted out a forecast of Hurricane Dorian’s trajectory toward the US, based on information and data available at that time. The possible path showed the storm making landfall over Florida, with the potential affected area reaching into Georgia and North Carolina.
— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) August 30, 2019
Even then, the map did not show Hurricane Dorian affecting Alabama. Per photos uploaded to the White House Flickr account, this map was used in an early briefing in the Oval Office.
Later, Trump would use other maps that were not issued by the NHC to defend his claim that the hurricane could have hit Alabama.
Forecasts display estimated paths of weather patterns, so there is always a degree of uncertainty leading up to a storm’s approach – but there was never a statistically significant chance that Dorian would actually “hit” Alabama, as the president would go on to tweet.
Saturday, August 31:
Here are the 5 AM EDT Saturday, August 31 Key Messages for Hurricane #Dorian. A prolonged period of storm surge and hurricane-force winds are likely over portions of the northwestern Bahamas. Visit https://t.co/tW4KeFW0gB for more info. pic.twitter.com/aVMKOqAvfn
— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) August 31, 2019
Early Saturday, by 8 AM EDT, the NHC’s official predicted trajectory for Hurricane Dorian shifted dramatically, and it no longer showed the storm making landfall in Florida. Rather, the entire forecast shifted north, steering clear of Alabama even more than earlier forecasts.
8/31 8 AM EDT: There's been a notable change overnight to the forecast of #Dorian after Tuesday. It should be stressed that the new forecast track does not preclude Dorian making landfall on the Florida coast, as large portions of the coast remain in the track cone of uncertainty pic.twitter.com/GSds0bKunM
— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) August 31, 2019
Sunday, Sept. 1:
On Sunday, Trump first tweeted his claim that “In addition to Florida – South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated.”
Within 20 minutes, the National Weather Service’s Birmingham Twitter account refuted the claim, writing “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian.”
After reported pressure from the Trump administration to get officials to back up the president, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration later defended the president, noting that the NWS Birmingham tweet “spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.”
— NWS Birmingham (@NWSBirmingham) September 1, 2019
Off Twitter, the president repeated his false claim that Alabama could be hit, both to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House and at a meeting with officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Monday, Sept. 2:
Tropical-storm-force winds are mostly likely to start in Georgia early on Wednesday, in South Carolina late Wednesday, and in North Carolina early Thursday. Follow the latest #Dorian forecast at https://t.co/tW4KeFW0gB pic.twitter.com/WjJzaNFncj
— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) September 2, 2019
On Monday, Trump retweeted a forecast of tropical-storm-force winds from the NHC that showed the southeastern corner of Alabama in range for a 5 to 10 per cent chance of receiving sustained (39+ mph) winds over the following 5-day period.
In response to ABC White House correspondent Jon Karl pointing out that Trump had “misstated the storm’s possible trajectory,” the president tweeted that it “WAS true” that Alabama “could possibly come into play.” In a reply to his own tweet, Trump wrote “under certain original scenarios, it was in fact correct that Alabama could have received some ‘hurt.'”
Tuesday, Sept. 3:
New Watches and Warnings Issued Along the Southeastern United States Coast. Rain and Wind Threat also Increasing For Portions of Virginia Coast and Southern Chesapeake Bay. Here are the 5 PM Tuesday Key Messages for #Dorian. For More Info See: https://t.co/tW4KeGdBFb pic.twitter.com/yBpORo5H9O
— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) September 3, 2019
On Tuesday, the president retweeted updated Hurricane Dorian forecasts from the NHC, but did not tweet about Alabama.
Wednesday, Sept. 4:
On Wednesday, his Alabama argument returned with full force. The president tweeted an “ensemble” of a spaghetti plot created by the South Florida Water Management District. He tweeted that it showed “models” of where the hurricane would go, but it actually aggregates different statistical, atmospheric, and historic models that do not necessarily indicate a storm’s path.
In addition to Trump’s incorrect interpretation, the map did not stem from the NHC, and was not intended to supersede the weather maps intended for political and public use. There is a warning label at the bottom that says to disregard the plot if it causes confusion. It was also dated August 28, several days before the forecast changed.
Meanwhile, during a briefing at the White House on Wednesday,Trump produced a map of an earlier Dorian trajectory that a photo on his administration’s Flickr page showed had been presented to the president during an August 29 briefing.
In the initial photos, the map displayed an earlier forecast, but still not one that included Alabama in Dorian’s path. In the Wednesday briefing, Trump was photographed with the map, which had been altered via a Sharpie marker to include Alabama in the outdated forecast. A White House spokesperson confirmed on Twitter that a Sharpie marker was used.
By Wednesday, the altered map Trump displayed was six days out of date. Not only was it misinformation, but the president and his administration may have broken federal law in doing so, because it is illegal to knowingly publish counterfeit weather forecasts.
Absolutely right @realDonaldTrump! Watching the media go ballistic over a black sharpie mark on a map would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad. The real news that matters here is a deadly hurricane continues up the coast and tens millions of Americans could be greatly impacted. https://t.co/SceSOeuyO5
— Hogan Gidley 45 Archived (@hogangidley45) September 5, 2019
Thursday, Sept. 5:
On Thursday, the president retweeted his spaghetti plot tweet after reiterating that “In the early days of the hurricane, when it was predicted that Dorian would go through Miami or West Palm Beach, even before it reached the Bahamas, certain models strongly suggested that Alabama & Georgia would be hit as it made its way through Florida & to the Gulf.”
He tweeted again later to assert that “Alabama was going to be hit or grazed,” then tweeted tropical-storm-force-winds projections from August 29 and 30 to show “Alabama was originally projected to be hit.”
Trump then quote-tweeted an August 30 tweet from the Alabama National Guard that said “#HurricaneDorian is projected to reach southern Alabama by the early part of the week. We are watching closely and #ready to act. Are you?”
The president wrote “I was with you all the way Alabama. The Fake News Media was not!”
Friday, Sept. 6:
Trump resumed his attack on “The Fake News Media” on Friday, suggesting that reporters had hoped he made a mistake, which he reiterated that he didn’t – although, of course, he did.
The president by this point began using his mishap and the reporting on it to accentuate his narrative that US news media unfairly targets him. In reality, he failed to incorporate updated information into his public service announcements.
In an erratic twist, he then tweeted a video compiled from a CNN report, footage of a car crash, and footage from one of his TV appearances.
The video shows a CNN forecast of Dorian’s path from before Saturday, when Alabama was still at risk of, in Trump’s words, being “grazed or hit.” The video stops and repeats the CNN soundbite of the word “Alabama” several times before showing a clip of Trump looking triumphant, and a car crashing and burning with the CNN logo superimposed over it.
That was the latest input from the president concerning his misstatement.
Monday, September 9:
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s acting chief scientist Craig McLean said in an email to staff on Monday that the agency’s response to Trump’s tweets on Alabama was a “danger to public health and safety,” the Washington Post reported.
McLean said that an unsigned statement put out by the NOAA which backed Trump’s claims jeopardized the NOAA’s responsibility to “to convey life-saving information necessary to avoid substantial and specific danger to public health and safety,” NPR said.
“I am pursuing the potential violations of our NOAA Administrative Order on Scientific Integrity,” McLean wrote in the email seen by NPR. “My understanding is that this intervention to contradict the forecaster was not based on science but on external factors including reputation and appearance, or simply put, political.”
Also on Monday, the New York Times reported that Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross threatened to fire top employees at NOAA after the National Weather Service publicly contradicted Trump’s claims.
According to documents seen by the Times, the NOAA’s statement is now being investigated by the Commerce Department’s Office of Inspector General.
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