When U.S. President Donald Trump claimed that hurricane Dorian would threaten Alabama, he was soon contradicted by the National Weather Service (NWS) in the city of Birmingham, which said that “no impacts” from the storm would be felt in the state.
Meteorologists and weather experts have pushed back on the claim, too.
But now the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has issued a statement backing the president’s account — even as reports still say Trump was wrong.
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Trump first tweeted about Alabama possibly being hit by Dorian last Sunday.
The National Weather Service in Birmingham later issued its tweet saying Alabama would “NOT see any impacts from Dorian,” saying the system would remain too far east.
The NOAA also backed up the NWS’ statement that day, when spokesman Christopher Vaccaro said, “the current forecast path of Dorian does not include Alabama.”
Trump subsequently doubled down on his assertion, presenting a map during a briefing in the Oval Office that apparently used a marker to extend the storm’s “cone of uncertainty” — which shows the projected path of a hurricane — so that it included the state.
The president was mocked for that briefing, with people taking markers to images such as the U.S.-Mexico border and the size of the crowd at his inauguration.
The NOAA’s Friday statement, however, pushed back on NWS Birmingham’s tweet, saying it spoke in “absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at that time.”
The administration explained that, from Aug. 28 through Sept. 2, information that the NOAA provided to Trump showed that Alabama could be hit by tropical-storm-force winds.
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The NOAA said this was “clearly demonstrated” in 26 different hurricane advisories displaying wind speed probabilities.
Indeed, a graphic produced by the administration shows outlying winds from Dorian hitting Alabama.
But this was apparently news to The Washington Post, which noted that Alabama did not fall within Dorian’s cone of uncertainty at any time during the dates mentioned by the NOAA —
Nor did any advisory from the National Hurricane Center (NHC) ever mention the state, the newspaper asserted.
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Hurricane research Brianer McNoldy of the University of Miami said Trump had “no clue what he’s talking about, or what is plotted on that map.”
“At the time of that cycle, Alabama was at even lower risk than before, and it was barely anything to start with,” he said.
When he presented his map, Trump said “almost all models” predicted Alabama would be hit, and said there was a 95 per cent chance of that happening.
The website spoke with Phil Klotzbach, who said “in no way was Alabama a likely target, but there was a small chance that Dorian could have entered the Gulf of Mexico.”
“But, I think the key point is that NOAA never discussed that scenario, because it was likely at least one week out from when this guidance was available.”
Former top officials from the NOAA have also blasted the agency over their statement, claiming that it had the risks of undermining the credibility of the nation’s weather and science agency, as well as potentially risking lives.
The latest forecasts have Dorian blowing with maximum winds of 150 km/h, with a hurricane warning in effect for eastern Nova Scotia between Hubbards and Avonport.
The storm is expected to hit as a Category 1 event, but it is picking up speed.
— With files from The Associated Press