“We got lucky in Florida, very, very lucky indeed,” Trump said in a video shot in the Oval Office and tweeted out on the White House account Wednesday afternoon. “We had actually, our original chart was that it was going to be hitting Florida directly,” he said, motioning for a large visual aid of a National Hurricane Center map.
“It was going to be hitting directly, and that would have affected a lot of other states,” Trump said. “But that was the original chart. And we see it was going to hit not only Florida but Georgia, it was going toward the Gulf, that was what was originally projected.”
However, while he noted the storm “took a right turn … and it’s heading up the coast,” the president never showed a graphic for meteorologists’ present projections for the storm’s track in the coming days - which the president had retweeted just hours before. Instead, it seems the purpose of the video was to show the outdated projection, which observers quickly noted had a curious addition:
The August 29 11am @NHC_Atlantic path of #HurricaneDorian and the #coneofuncertainty and @realDonaldTrump being briefed that am with that same graphic. Sadly, someone else must’ve then shown him this erroneous sharpied addition to the cone that included Alabama pic.twitter.com/ZSH3ehohaV— Al Roker (@alroker) September 4, 2019
The addition, which doesn’t look remotely like the rest of the projection, extends just enough to include Alabama’s coastline - a state Trump has repeatedly insisted Hurricane Dorian had endangered, even while multiple weather reporters and agencies actively refuted the claim.
One meteorologist noted the president may have broken a federal law by delivering a false weather report:
It is a violation of federal law to falsify a National Weather Service forecast and pass it off as official, as President Trump did here.— Dennis Mersereau (@wxdam) September 4, 2019
18 U.S. Code § 2074: https://t.co/jvROnpSJLI pic.twitter.com/TnIuvZRJoS
“Whoever knowingly issues or publishes any counterfeit weather forecast or warning of weather conditions falsely representing such forecast or warning to have been issued or published by the Weather Bureau, United States Signal Service, or other branch of the Government service, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ninety days, or both,” a 1948 federal law reads, according to Cornell Law.
As early as September 1, Trump was claiming that Alabama could be among the states hit by the storm, which at the time was just east of the Bahamas. However, by then the National Weather Service’s projections had already changed, showing a hook north and east, more or less along the course it’s still projected to take.
Alabama? Have you ever looked at a map of the US before? pic.twitter.com/b9cXP921gb— Puff Dragon (@PuffDragon11) September 1, 2019
Indeed, just 20 minutes after Trump’s erroneous Sunday tweet, the National Weather Service’s Twitter account for Birmingham, Alabama, tweeted in no uncertain terms that “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian,” adding that “The system will remain too far east.”
Just minutes later, James Spann, a meteorologist for Birmingham-based ABC affiliate WBMA-LD quote-tweeted the president directly with the same message. That’s when Trump fired back, doubling down on his claim while attacking Spann and ABC for their “lightweight” reporting.
....when in fact, under certain original scenarios, it was in fact correct that Alabama could have received some “hurt.” Always good to be prepared! But the Fake News is only interested in demeaning and belittling. Didn’t play my whole sentence or statement. Bad people!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 2, 2019
So, credit where credit is due: Trump is right. Sort of. However, to find a projection that agrees with him, one must go back to August 28, when the storm wasn’t far past Puerto Rico and was centered east of the Turks & Caicos Islands. As weather patterns changed, so did projections of the storm’s strength and path.
But shortly after his initial tweet and well before responding to Spann, Trump repeated the claim several more times. At an 11:14 a.m. presser Sunday on the White House South Lawn, Trump told reporters that “Alabama is going to get a piece of it, it looks like,” then said it again at 12:31 p.m. during a briefing for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
However, any effects Alabama might have felt would have been incidental, compared to the battering that awaited the Atlantic coast. Projections gave a 5-10% chance of Alabama’s southeastern corner experiencing tropical storm-force winds, but only when Dorian was much more powerful than it is now. Its subsequent stalling over the Bahamas significantly weakened the storm from an ultra-powerful Category 5 storm to a Category 2 hurricane.
So, when Trump whipped out that doctored graphic in the Oval Office Wednesday, Twitter gave him hell for it.
One person suggested that, since Trump loves redrawing maps so much, maybe he could include Greenland in the US of A, since he recently tried to buy it from Denmark.
As long as White House staff is adjusting maps to appease the President, we might as well just make Greenland a U.S. territory on all the maps in the West Wing.— Matt Fuller (@MEPFuller) September 4, 2019
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Climate change denial is one thing, but weather change denial? That’s expert-level.
Tired: Climate denial— Ad Infinitum (@Ad_Inifinitum) September 4, 2019
Wired: Weather denial
Won’t someone think of the dystopian writers?
How are sci-fi writers ever again going to write dystopian novels? All of the good ideas are just everyday happenings now.— EatJerry (@stonermouse) September 4, 2019