President Trump Falsely States that Alabama May be Under Threat from Hurricane Dorian

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President Trump Falsely States that Alabama May be Under Threat from Hurricane Dorian

On September 3, 2019 CNN reported that President Trump had falsely stated on three separate occasions that Hurricane Dorian was going to hit Alabama. The initial error came in a tweet sent on September 1 that included Alabama in a list of states that could potentially be hit hard by the storm, despite the fact that Alabama does not have Atlantic coastline (unlike all the other states listed) and was not under any threat from the storm. Shortly after the President’s tweet, the National Weather Service office in Birmingham, Alabama took to Twitter to confirm that Alabama did not face any threat from Dorian.

Later that same day in a press conference at the White House, the President stated that Alabama was going to “get a piece of it” and then in a separate briefing to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), he again said that Alabama would be impacted and see strong winds and maybe “something more than that.” However, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) spokesman Chris Vaccaro confirmed to reporters that Alabama would not be impacted by the storm.

Following a report from ABC’s “World News Tonight” White House correspondent Jon Karl, who said that President Trump “misstated the storm’s possible trajectory,” Trump responded with a tweet stating that “it was in fact correct that Alabama could have received some ‘hurt’”.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham told CNN that the President had been briefed not to focus on the track of the storm or where it would make landfall but rather on the area as a whole that could feel impact from the winds, which could include Alabama due to its proximity to Florida. However, Alabama is over 250 miles from the Florida east coast at its closest point and at no time had the government forecast that hurricane-force winds could reach any part of Alabama.


Update: On September 4, 2019 President Trump held a press conference on Hurricane Dorian during which he held up a map of the hurricane’s projected track on which someone appeared to have used a sharpie marker to extend the path to include Alabama. Altering a federal weather forecast is against the law. The President stated that his briefings had informed him there was a 95% chance Alabama would be hit by the storm but when asked if the map had been doctored, he responded “I don’t know, I don’t know.”

On September 7, 2019 it was reported that, following the tweet by the National Weather Service in Birmingham, AL that stated Alabama was not under threat from the storm, NOAA sent a directive to National Weather Service employees that they were to stick with National Hurricane Center forecasts if questions arose in response to the posts on social media and that they were not to provide any opinion on the subject.

On September 9, 2019 it was revealed that following the tweet by the Birmingham office, the Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, had instructed Neil Jacobs, the acting administrator of NOAA, to fix the agency’s perceived contradiction with the President. When Dr. Jacobs objected to this request, Ross then threatened to fire senior NOAA officials. That threat apparently led to the release of an unsigned statement by NOAA on September 6 that provided a link to a map that projected potential tropical storm force winds in Alabama as a result of the storm. That release also stated that “The Birmingham National Weather Service’s Sunday morning tweet spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.” However, this map also showed that the peak threat to Alabama occurred at midday on August 30 and, according to the Los Angeles Times  “the probability disappeared almost immediately and, by the time of Trump’s first tweet, was negligible – almost nonexistent.”

This release of this statement then prompted Craig McLean, NOAA’s acting chief scientist, to send an email to staff members stating that he was looking into whether the statement violated the agency’s scientific integrity policy. This email, which was obtained by the Washington Post, went on to call the agency’s response to this situation “political” and a “danger to public health and safety.”

On September 11, 2019 the New York Times reported that acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told Wilbur Ross to have NOAA publicly disavow the statement by the Birmingham office.



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