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Under fire from prominent meteorologists for giving out incorrect information on the path of Hurricane Dorian, President Donald Trump on Thursday doubled down on his assertion that the storm was at one point headed for Alabama. He said coverage of his claim — including the moment when he showed a week-old map that had been doctored with a Sharpie — was meant to "demean" him."
"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," Trump tweeted. "Instead it turned North and went up the coast, where it continues now."
"In the one model through Florida, the Great State of Alabama would have been hit or grazed," he continued. "In the path it took, no. Read my FULL FEMA statement. What I said was accurate! All Fake News in order to demean!"
Trump returned to the subject again about two hours later, tweeting: "Alabama was going to be hit or grazed, and then Hurricane Dorian took a different path (up along the East Coast). The Fake News knows this very well. That’s why they’re the Fake News!"
He followed this up late Thursday afternoon with more tweets in defense of his position, including additional maps that also dated to last week. Hours later, the White House released an additional statement from a homeland security adviser, Rear Admiral Peter Brown, in which Brown claimed Trump had been briefed on "the possibility of tropical storm force winds in southeastern Alabama."
The president has faced pushback from weather analysts over his fixation on the hurricane possibly hitting Alabama. Bill Karins, a meteorologist for NBC News, broke down the president’s inaccurate comments on MSNBC's "The Rachel Maddow Show" on Wednesday night.
"At this point should we apologize to everyone the National Hurricane Center, all the emergency managers, and everyone that evacuated in South Carolina and North Carolina that may be watching right now trying to get some facts and information?" Karins asked.
Ryan Maue, a meteorologist, told The Associated Press that Trump must strive for accuracy "if he wants to provide helpful information to the public facing a potential emergency."
"If he’s going to be a provider of up-to-date information, he needs to be up to date," Maue said.
Phil Klotzbach, a research scientist in the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University, emailed the AP saying: "Trump should have just admitted he made a mistake and moved on!"
To the confusion of some, when the hurricane's path was projected Sunday to go up the East Coast, avoiding Alabama, Trump tweeted: "In addition to Florida — South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated."
Later that day, Trump twice told reporters that Alabama was in the storm's path, first saying outside of Marine One that "Alabama is going to get a piece of it, it looks like," and later, at a Federal Emergency Management Agency briefing, saying the storm "may get a little piece of a great place: It's called Alabama."
Trump continued to press the issue on Monday. Upset over an ABC News report fact-checking the Alabama claim, the president tweeted: "Such a phony hurricane report by lightweight reporter @jonkarl of @ABCWorldNews. 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."
Then, on Wednesday, Trump displayed an apparently doctored map in the Oval Office that showed Alabama to be within Dorian's path. The map Trump displayed was the same as a model produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last week — well before its path along the East Coast had materialized — showing the hurricane's projected path cutting through central Florida.
But there was one key difference: Where the original projection ended, a smaller, black circle that appeared to be hand-drawn with a Sharpie included Alabama in the model.
Asked later that day about the discrepancy with the original map, Trump said: "I don't know. I don't know. I don't know."
Karins addressed the episode on "The Rachel Maddow Show" that night, saying National Hurricane Center personnel had "left their families on Labor Day weekend when the storm really started getting really nasty. And do you know how many media inquiries they got today? ‘Hey, will you guys comment on this, will you guys comment on the president doing this?’
"What are they supposed to do?" he continued. "They’re supposed to be nonpolitical. … They’re just trying to give science. And then we’ve got someone doodling on their maps that the emergency managers use for preparations and evacuations to save people’s lives.”
The doctored map sparked internet users to post an array of memes under the hashtag #sharpiegate on Twitter.
Wednesday evening, Trump tweeted another map dated Aug. 28 — a day older than the map he displayed in the Oval Office — showing Alabama in the crosshairs. The image, credited to the South Florida Water Management District, includes fine print that said, "[National Hurricane Center] Advisories and County Emergency Management Statements supersede this project. This graphic should complement, not replace, NHC discussions."
"If anything on this graphic causes confusion, ignore the entire product," the image notes.
Speaking with the AP, Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami, said of the president's Wednesday evening tweet: "He has 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."