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Alabama: Dorian’s Sweet Home?

Posted by Joseph Winberry

The emergence of hurricanes can lead to the creation of a whole host of questions. Are hurricanes becoming worse due to climate change? How many people were killed or injured? How can I help? But another question has been raised around Hurricane Dorian: did the White House tamper with a National Weather Service forecast in order to back up the claims of the President? The controversy began when President Trump announced September 1 via Twitter that Alabama was one of several states likely to be hit harder than expected by Hurricane Dorian.

President Trump’s Labor Day Weekend tweet that sparked a media firestorm that would become known as “Sharpiegate.” Source: Forbes.com

Roughly two and a half hours later, the National Weather Service’s Birmingham, Alabama office put out a tweet stating that Alabama would not see any “impacts” from Hurricane Dorian, a comment which many on social media and in the press took as their effort to calm anyone who may been spooked by the president’s earlier remarks. According to Forbes.com, the president went on to defend his original tweet stating that early projections suggested that the state would be in the crossfire of Hurricane Dorian while others pointed out that only the fringe models showed Alabama getting any kind of impact let alone a worse than anticipated impact.

The National Weather Service’s Birmingham, Alabama office released this tweet just hours after President Trump tweeted that Alabama would be hit much harder than expected by Hurricane Dorian. Source: Twitter.com.

The debate may have ended there but it was rekindled when President Trump spoke to reporters on September 4 to give an update on Hurricane Dorian. He was joined by the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, Kevin McAleenan, as well as by a map from the National Hurricane Center which showed the projection of the storm. Controversy arose when it was quickly pointed out that the map had been doctored using a Sharpie to suggest that part of Alabama was included in the official projected course of Hurricane Dorian which it was not. The Hill reported that both the White House and The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, whose jurisdiction the National Hurricane Center exists under, declined to comment on what has been called “Sharpiegate.” One reporter went as far as to argue—with a US Code citation—that tampering with the map is a violation of federal law.

 

Weather journalist Dennis Mersereau took to Twitter to suggest that the White House violated federal law in doctoring a National Hurricane Center map to claim incorrectly that Alabama was likely to be hit harder than expected by Hurricane Dorian. Source: Twitter.com

The court of law aside, staff at the Adam Brown Social Media Command Center analyzed media results to find where the Hurricane Dorian in Alabama controversy stood in the court of public opinion. Analysis showed that 71% of coverage was considered negative with many people taking to Twitter to make their views—and best memes—known. Among these negative sentiments, 9,382 or 57% were from female users while 7,144 or 43% were from male users. Looking specifically at the hashtag “Sharpiegate,” Social Studio shows that it has been used more than 600 times by users with 57% of these uses being seen as negative. These findings suggest that response to this controversy—especially from Twitter users—has been overwhelmingly negative. Only time will tell if future attention will be directed to Dorian’s victims or its revisionists. Staff at the Adam Brown Social Media Command Center will continue to follow media attention of the storm.