Alabamans are relieved Trump's Sharpie was wrong about Dorian, just like the National Weather Service said he was

James Cullen
IMG_4827.JPG

James Cullen


  • For the past several days, President Trump has adamantly claimed Alabama was in the path of Hurricane Dorian. 
  • It was not. 
  • People across the state are relieved but also wary. Many recall the difficulties they went through during Hurricane Katrina. 
  • Alabamans have largely ignored Trump's storm claims.  "Dorian never had plans on visiting us or the Gulf Coast," noted one resident. 
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

BAYOU LA BATRE, Alabama — In Bayou La Batre, a fishing village along the Alabama Gulf Coast, the sky was clear Thursday and the sun sparkled on the water as shrimp boats bobbed lazily up and down. It was a far cry from fourteen years earlier when the town was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and a devastating sixteen-foot storm surge leveled buildings and boats alike. Yet for some, with Dorian spinning in the Atlantic Ocean, there was still a sense of unease.

The Bayou is littered with abandoned structures and small businesses interspersed along its curving roads. One of these low-slung structures is Captain Frank's Smoke Shack, a barbecue restaurant known for its award-winning gumbo. Run by Ann Morse and her husband, former shrimp boat captain Frank Morse, the building took a massive amount of water in Katrina.  

"The water was up to here," the diminutive Morse indicated with her hand extended a foot above her head, approximately six feet in the air.

IMG_4812.JPG

James Cullen

Like many in Alabama, Morse was apprehensive about Hurricane Dorian, a feeling which was only heightened by President Donald Trump, who continued to claim Alabama was in the path of the storm for several days — despite the National Weather Service adamantly denying his claims. 

As Dorian moved up the coast towards the Carolinas on Thursday, President Trump was still focused on Alabama, tweeting, "Just as I said, Alabama was originally projected to be hit. The Fake News denies it!"

Later Thursday afternoon, the president posted a series of screenshots from the National Weather Service showing a projection of Alabama in Dorian's path. The only problem? The projections themselves were already four days old — and they weren't exactly projections. Rather, the images were "spaghetti plots," a type of projection that aggregates statistical, atmospheric, and historical models. They can be useful for developing forecasts but aren't actually forecasts themselves. 

Screen Shot 2019 09 06 at 9.57.59 AM

Twitter/@realdonaldtrump

When that tweet failed to have the desired effect, Trump then had Homeland Security and Counterterrorism advisor Rear Admiral Peter J. Brown release a statement attempting to bolster the president's claims.  

The people of Alabama have largely maintained a sense of calm

"I never let my guard down until it's gone," Ann Morse said, while acknowledging that the storm, thankfully, "didn't get close."

As Morse noted, "It's amazing how good the projections are and how accurately they can predict tracks these days."

Further east, in Mobile, a city which has also suffered mightily at the hands of hurricanes, there was a sense of calm, with most residents believing that the city was never in any real danger. Ryan Hinton, who works in downtown Mobile, said there wasn't much of a reaction to Dorian, even noting that most stores were still well-stocked with hurricane supplies, including bread, batteries and bottled water.

"The people of Mobile are pretty adept to potential hurricanes," Hinton explained, "so they realized from the forecasts of the past week or so, that Mobile was out of the woods. Living on the Gulf Coast, people know not to lend to much credit to the cone of uncertainty so they take a wait and see approach."

It was this "cone of uncertainty," a term used to designate the potential margin for error in a hurricane's track, that was itself at the center of the controversy, as President Trump, on Wednesday, showed a hurricane map that had been altered with a Sharpie marker to include Alabama in the track. This was well after Hurricane Dorian had already taken a turn to the north towards the Carolinas.

5d7002c76f24eb29e8609074 960 525

Twitter

It appears that the altered map was in response to a September 1 tweet by the National Weather Service in Birmingham that stated, "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."

This sentiment was echoed by Tresor Bertrand, a Birmingham resident and former New Orleanian who was displaced by Katrina.

"Dorian never had plans on visiting us or the Gulf Coast," Betrand opined. 

Despite the assurances that Dorian wouldn't impact Alabama, there was still a sense of relief as the storm turned north, and a feeling of empathy for the people of the Carolinas who would feel the effects. 

"Yes people are relieved," Ryan Hinton said. "It's pretty normal to hear people praying or hoping a major storm avoids the Gulf Coast. I probably take them much more seriously now, since Katrina."

Back in Bayou La Batre, Ann Morse looked out the window at the clear sky and was visibly relieved that today was not their day and that the weather service tracks proved correct. 

"It did exactly what they said it was going to do," Morse said of the hurricane. "It stayed right."