If you noticed that NOAA and NWS Birmingham are trending on Twitter, it’s because the NOAA issued a statement siding with President Donald Trump’s tweet and disagreeing with NWS Birmingham’s statement. The NOAA is focusing on how NWS Birmingham’s tweet disagreeing with Trump was too “absolute” in its terminology. But that doesn’t mean Trump’s tweet was absolutely correct either. Here’s what’s going on and why things are a bit confusing. Maps from August 31 and September 1 reveal more and show there are actually arguments for both sides.
NOAA Backed Trump By Saying that NWS Birmingham’s Tweet Was Too ‘Absolute’
On September 6, NOAA Communications issued an unsigned statement siding with Trump against NWS Birmingham.
Their statement reads: “From Wednesday, August 28, through Monday, September 2, the information provided by NOAA and the National Hurricane Center to President Trump and the wider public demonstrated that tropical-storm-force winds from Hurricane Dorian could impact Alabama. This is clearly demonstrated in Hurricane Advisories #15 through #41, which can be viewed at the following link. 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.”
The link shows predictions for tropical storm force winds. You can see the graphic that NOAA shared at this link.
It’s important to note that the NOAA’s statement doesn’t necessarily mean that everything in Trump’s tweet was correct either. But it does mean that NWS Birmingham’s response was wrong because their statement was written in terms that were too absolute. There were no cones predicting any hurricane force winds affecting Alabama at the time, but some cones still showed very, very slight possibilities of tropical storm force winds.
Here’s why that’s the case and the NOAA is being truthful in their statement, depending on your interpretation.
The graphic they linked to shows tropical storm force wind probabilities from August 25 through now. On the evening of August 31, Alabama was barely in the cone of uncertainty even for tropical-storm force winds, but a small part of the state was still in the cone. The cone of uncertainty was green, which is the lowest probability of just 5 to 10 percent.
Now here are the probabilities that were shared later for September 1. It’s getting even smaller and barely touching Alabama. Keep in mind these are for tropical storm winds of less than 39 mph on average, NOT hurricane force winds. Alabama was not in the cone of certainty for hurricane force winds at that time, and the NOAA was careful in its statement to only focus on tropical storm winds, not hurricane winds.
NOAA appears to be saying that they could not say with 100 percent certainty at the time that Alabama would definitely not be affected by Dorian in any way. And unfortunately, that is why what NWS Birmingham said in their tweet could be interpreted as being wrong.
NWS Birmingham wrote in response to Trump: “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane #Dorian will be felt across Alabama. The system will remain too far east. #alwx”
The problem is that NWS Birmingham indicated there was no chance Alabama would see any impacts from Dorian. And although they ended up being right, at the time there was still a very small chance that Alabama might see some tropical storm force winds, which are some type of impact from Dorian. So NWS Birmingham’s tweet wasn’t 100 percent factual.
Trump Tweeted that Alabama Was Among the States That Would ‘Most Likely Be Hit (Much) Harder than Anticipated,’ Which Also Wasn’t Accurate
However, this doesn’t make Trump’s tweet completely accurate either. On Sunday, September 1 at 9:51 a.m., Trump didn’t just tweet that Alabama was among the states that might feel some slight effects of Dorian. He tweeted that Alabama was among the states that would “most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated.” That didn’t track with the forecasts, which only predicted a slight possibility of tropical storm winds at the time he made his tweet.
Trump wrote: “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!”
No forecast from the NOAA at the time was saying Alabama could be hit “much harder than anticipated.”
Here’s the predicted path and cone of uncertainty for Dorian on August 31 at 8 p.m. Eastern, which was before Trump made his tweet. You can read the full forecast for Dorian at that time in Heavy’s story here.
So on August 31 there was still a predicted chance of tropical storm winds from Dorian, but only very slight.
On September 1 that trend continued, as shared by Heavy here. Here’s the hurricane winds forecast for September 1 at 2 p.m. Eastern, a few hours after Trump’s tweet:
Spaghetti models showed something similar. A main spaghetti model for September 1, as shared by Heavy here, didn’t predict impact on Alabama. Most of the models on August 31 still predicated a slight chance for Alabama, but not much of one.
So although these maps indicate that Alabama might feel some slight impacts from Dorian, none of them back up a tweet from Trump that indicated Alabama would “most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated.”
More Questions Remain
More questions remain, however. First, there’s the question of who added the black circle to a cone of uncertainty map that seems to extend the cone to cover Alabama.
In the video above, Trump shared an update on Hurricane Dorian and how lucky they got that the storm didn’t hit Florida directly. Then he showed the storm’s original projection, which he said showed it heading to Florida, Georgia, and going into the Gulf. However, the map has a strange change to it. The cone used by NOAA had a black circle extending it to cover part of Alabama.
It’s not known if Trump added that circle himself or if someone else did, and whether it was added seriously or as a joke that accidentally got shared as an official map. Whatever, the case, many commented that it looked a lot like it was drawn on with a sharpie, leading to “sharpiegate” trending on Twitter.
And now, following the NOAA’s statement, people just aren’t sure what to think.
Bradley Moss wrote: “If this statement is true, when will we hear about the indictments for the NOAA staff who put out the original ‘Alabama is not in danger’ tweet? I mean, this suggests they lied to people in Alabama and put them in danger, right?”
Others are asking the same.
And then there’s the question of trust, which one person points out.
It’s confusing. Alabama wasn’t in any danger of hurricane force winds at the time of Trump’s tweet. So in that sense, they were right.
But NWS Birmingham technically said that there was no possibility Alabama would feel any effects of the storm, when at the time of Trump’s tweet there was still a very very slight possibility that Alabama might feel some tropical storm force winds. So no, the hurricane was not heading to Alabama according to any NOAA cones of uncertainty at that time. And no, there wasn’t even a possibility of hurricane force winds. But yes, there was still a small chance of tropical storm winds affecting Alabama.