On the heels of his incredibly important Twitter feud with actress Debra Messing during a series of national crises, President Donald Trump turned his attention back to Hurricane Dorian, the Category 2 storm that devastated the Bahamas and is currently threatening the east coast. He did so by hosting a brief information session with reporters in the Oval Office, during which he produced what many observers noted was an outdated map from the National Hurricane Center. What’s more, said map had apparently been altered by Trump or someone on his staff.
“We got lucky in Florida,” he told reporters while demonstrating the admittedly old map. “It was going to be hitting [Florida] directly, and that would have affected a lot of other states, but that was the original chart. It was going to hit not only Florida, but Georgia… it was going toward the Gulf [of Mexico]. That was what we, what was originally projected. And it took a right turn. Ultimately, hopefully, we’re going to be lucky.”
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) September 4, 2019
Though Trump did say that the map he was showing off (in what has since been posted to the White House’s official Twitter account) was outdated, that he was even doing this days later — after Dorian had already flown past the Bahamas and toward the southeastern United States — made little sense. At least, that was until several meteorologists, weather and science reporters, and others noticed something odd about the map in question. The hurricane’s project path over Florida, then represented by a white bubble, had been added to.
The President of the United States altered a National Hurricane Center map with a sharpie to falsely extend the official forecast toward Alabama so he didn't have to admit he was wrong in a tweet. https://t.co/i0CJcYV4yq pic.twitter.com/pR57IL6WfT
— Dennis Mersereau (@wxdam) September 4, 2019
Someone had quite literally extended it with a black pen or Sharpie so that Alabama was included.
So, why does this matter? Because on Sunday, soon after this initial map was released, Trump claimed that “South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated” on Twitter.
In addition to Florida – South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated. Looking like one of the largest hurricanes ever. Already category 5. BE CAREFUL! GOD BLESS EVERYONE!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 1, 2019
The claim flew in the face of the National Hurricane Center’s then-current projections, forcing them and other meteorological agencies and news outlets to issue corrections so as to avoid a panic in Alabama. But in true Trumpian fashion, the president doubled down on his false assertion that Alabama was in the storm’s path. “I suggested yesterday at FEMA that, along with Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, even Alabama could possibly come into play, which WAS true,” he wrote. “Always good to be prepared! But the Fake News is only interested in demeaning and belittling.”
….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
It would seem that, despite Dorian’s downgrade from a Category 5 to a Category 2 storm, and despite its sudden turn away from Florida and up the eastern seaboard, Trump is still insisting that he was right to say that Alabama was in the storm’s initial projected path — even though it wasn’t.
Needless to say, both informed critics and Twitter’s typical commenters were nonplussed by the president’s evident desire to triple down on his initial claims by altering an official weather map.
— Jackson Proskow (@JProskowGlobal) September 4, 2019
To clarify, the White House released a video—ostensibly an update about a hurricane threatening the east coast—that was just an excuse to show a dated, forged prediction to confirm his own wrong prediction from several days ago because he was upset he was called out on it. https://t.co/szkbGsatk0 pic.twitter.com/Yl5B7riZfm
— Nathan McDermott (@natemcdermott) September 4, 2019
Complete with a photoshopped days old NHC cone to show the storm threat extending into Alabama! https://t.co/pYsuA05FzE
— Ryan Hanrahan (@ryanhanrahan) September 4, 2019
As many were quick to note, what Trump or one of his staffers allegedly did to the map was a violation of federal law.
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
— Ben Dowsett (@Ben_Dowsett) September 4, 2019
As the session continued, reporters in the Oval Office who noticed the alteration (and the tweets about it) began asking Trump about it, but he rebuffed their questions.
Reporter just asked Trump about the map: "It looked like someone took a Sharpie…."
Trump: "I don't know. I don't know." (But Potus insists several times that Alabama was in the Dorian's path despite evidence to contrary.) https://t.co/2S92ndpnB1
— David Nakamura (@DavidNakamura) September 4, 2019
President Trump says he doesn’t know about the hurricane map being altered by a Sharpie. He also insisted there are “other, better maps” that show Alabama was in the area that could be affected by Hurricane Dorian, though the weather service said that’s not true.
— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) September 4, 2019
Nor, for that matter, did the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — the organization behind the National Hurricane Center — seem all that eager to comment publicly.
The NOAA spokesperson is now declining to say whether Alabama was ever in Dorian's possible path.
"I just don't have it in front of me," she says.
— Chris Megerian (@ChrisMegerian) September 4, 2019