After days of claiming without evidence that Alabama was projected to be hit by Hurricane Dorian, President Donald Trump displayed an apparently doctored map in the Oval Office on Wednesday that showed Alabama to be within the storm's path.
The map Trump displayed was the same as a model produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last week showing the hurricane's projected path cutting through central Florida — with one key difference. Where the original projection ended, a smaller, black circle that appeared to be drawn in Sharpie was produced to include Alabama in the model.
"We had actually our original chart that it was going to end up hitting Florida directly," Trump said, holding the map as he sat in the Oval Office Wednesday alongside Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan. "It was going to be hitting directly, that would have affected a lot of other states. But that was the original chart. It was going to hit not only Florida, Georgia, it was going toward the Gulf [of Mexico]. That was what was originally projected. And it took a right turn and ultimately, hopefully we're going to be lucky."
"I know that Alabama was in the original forecast, they thought it would get a piece of it," Trump said later on Wednesday. "We have a better map ... in all cases Alabama was hit, if not lightly in some cases pretty hard. They gave it a 95 percent chance."
Asked about the discrepancies with the original map, Trump said: "I don't know. I don't know."
Hours later, he tweeted another map, dated Aug. 28, that showed Alabama in the cross-hairs. The image, credited to a local agency called the South Florida Water Management District, includes fine print that says, "NHC Advisories and County Emergency Management Statements supersede this project. This graphic should complement, not replace, NHC discussions."
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"If anything on this graphic causes confusion, ignore the entire product," the image notes.
This was the originally projected path of the Hurricane in its early stages. As you can see, almost all models predicted it to go through Florida also hitting Georgia and Alabama. I accept the Fake News apologies! pic.twitter.com/0uCT0Qvyo6
The episode was the latest in a bizarre cycle where Trump has doubled and tripled down on including Alabama among the states he said was in the hurricane's path. It began Sunday morning when Trump tweeted: "In addition to Florida — South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated." By that point, the hurricane's path was projected to go up the East Coast, avoiding Alabama.
"Looking like one of the largest hurricanes ever," he added. "Already category 5. BE CAREFUL! GOD BLESS EVERYONE!"
About 20 minutes later, the National Weather Service in Birmingham, Alabama, tweeted: "Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian."
"We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane #Dorian will be felt across Alabama," the NWS added. "The system will remain too far east."
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Soon after, Trump told reporters outside of Marine One that the hurricane "seems to be going up to toward South Carolina, toward North Carolina. Georgia is going to be hit. Alabama is going to get a piece of it, it looks like."
"But it can change its course again and it could go back more toward Florida," Trump said. "So we’ll be knowing — we’ll be learning over the next probably, less than 24 hours. But it is a very, very powerful hurricane."
Then, at a Federal Emergency Management Agency briefing Trump attended, the president said the hurricane "may get a little piece of a great place: It's called Alabama," adding the state "could even be in for at least some very strong winds and something more than that, it could be. This just came up, unfortunately."
On Monday, Trump was upset over an ABC News report pointing out the Alabama claim, tweeting: "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."
"They made a big deal about this when in fact, under certain original scenarios, it was in fact correct that Alabama could have received some 'hurt,'" he added. "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!"
When asked about the map issue, a NOAA spokesperson told NBC to "Please contact the White House Press Office." The White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the map from NBC News.
In a statement to CNN earlier this week, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Trump was told during a briefing at Camp David that "was important that the focus shouldn't be on the 'line or track' of the hurricane."
"That despite where Dorian would ultimately make landfall, the 'expanse of the wind field is large' and there was still 'a lot of uncertainty,'" she added. "His comments were simply noting those points, and with Alabama's proximity to Florida it makes sense."
Disseminating "knowingly" false weather reports is against federal law.
"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," 18 U.S. Code 2074 reads.