President Trump, Weatherman: Dorian Updates and at Least 122 Tweets


WASHINGTON — Over the long weekend, President Trump monitored Hurricane Dorian from a golf cart at his club in Virginia, calling for regular updates from an aide trailing him around the course. By 8 p.m. Monday, as Dorian churned toward Florida and Mr. Trump’s boarded-up Mar-a-Lago resort, the president had golfed twice and since Saturday morning pelted the American public with 122 tweets.

As he has done during other hurricanes, Mr. Trump awaited landfall by assuming the role of meteorologist in chief, adding weatherman-style updates to a usual weekend routine of attacking his enemies, retweeting bits of praise and critiquing the performance of his cable news allies.

Starting with his first weekend tweet at 7:45 a.m. Saturday, Mr. Trump’s Dorian-related tweets were delivered with the speed of a hailstorm.

With his reality-show approach to the presidency, Mr. Trump has a habit of weighing in on the day’s most-covered news stories with his own running commentary. As Dorian approached, Mr. Trump switched into town-crier mode, updating the public on what he had learned — or, what he thought he’d learned — from government officials as Dorian threatened the coast of the state of Florida, where he has owned property for decades.

“In addition to Florida — South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated,” Mr. Trump wrote in a tweet shortly after departing Camp David for Washington on Sunday morning. “Looking like one of the largest hurricanes ever. Already category 5. BE CAREFUL! GOD BLESS EVERYONE!”

Mr. Trump’s commentary on the hurricane was not wholly accurate. The National Weather Service quickly walked back one of his assertions: “We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane Dorian will be felt across Alabama,” officials said on Twitter.

Always eager to have the last word, Mr. Trump on Monday attacked an ABC reporter who said the president had wrongly inserted Alabama in the list of states.

“Always good to be prepared!” Mr. Trump wrote by way of explanation.

But the president’s concern for Florida, a state of political and personal importance to him, did not seem to waver going into the weekend. On Friday, he took questions from reporters about the ability of Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach, Fla., estate, to withstand the winds.

“Yeah, it would look like Mar-a-Lago is dead center,” Mr. Trump said. “But, look, Mar-a-Lago can handle itself. That’s a very powerful place.”

As Dorian grew in size and strength, Mr. Trump appeared to marvel at the storm’s sheer capacity for devastation: “Being hit like never before, Category 5. Almost 200 MPH winds,” the president tweeted on Sunday. Earlier, during a hurricane briefing at the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters, Mr. Trump expressed disbelief bordering on reverence for Dorian’s Category 5 status, the highest degree measured by meteorologists on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale.

“A Category 5 is something that I don’t know that I’ve even heard the term, other than I know it’s there. That’s the ultimate.”

Curiously, Mr. Trump has claimed before that neither he nor weather experts had ever heard of or experienced a Category 5. He was speaking specifically about Hurricane Irma in Florida and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, both in September 2017, and both classified as Category 5.

The Capital Weather Gang, a group of weather experts at The Washington Post, took issue on Monday with Mr. Trump’s remarks.

“Although it might seem like a harmless curiosity or blind spot, Trump’s self-professed ignorance of Category 5 monsters could slow the government’s response to such disasters,” an editor, Andrew Freedman, wrote, “or contribute to confusion at the highest levels of government as well as among people in harm’s way.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday about Mr. Trump’s knowledge of Category 5 storms, or about Mr. Trump’s preparation efforts in general.

Mr. Trump, like other occupants of the Oval Office, appears to understand that national weather catastrophes demand White House attention and can damage a presidency if not handled well. Julian E. Zelizer, a presidential historian, pointed out that presidents have generally fallen into two categories: those who can transcend politics to speak to an entire nation when a storm threatens, and those who have foundered.

Mr. Zelizer said that President Lyndon B. Johnson had set a modern precedent for storm response in 1965 when he visited with victims of Hurricane Betsy, a Category 4 storm that killed 75 people in New Orleans. Stunned by what he saw on the ground, and declaring that “red tape be cut,” Mr. Johnson personally oversaw the recovery operation.

President George W. Bush, on the other hand, called criticism of his administration’s slow-moving response to Hurricane Katrina, a Category 5 storm that killed more than 1,833 people in New Orleans, one of the worst moments of his presidency.

“Trump is a different category,” Mr. Zelizer said in an interview, “in that it’s not even that he’s not doing enough or the right thing. It’s almost as if he doesn’t want this role at all, and he has no interest in stopping his traditional, normal tweet storms.”

True to form, Mr. Trump created his own mini-tsumani of content as the storm drew nearer. Inside the White House, Mr. Trump’s aides say that this behavior represents an accessible, transparent and interested president using his platform to send important updates directly to the American people.

But then there’s what that actually looks like in practice: dozens of updates about the storm, both in person and on Twitter, but mixed in with comments about the trade war with China, his annoyance with the actress Debra Messing and ever more complaints about the F.B.I. director he fired, James Comey.

In several of his updates, Mr. Trump personally assured the communities in several states vulnerable to Hurricane Dorian that help would be on the way should they need it.

In the days before Dorian made landfall, Mr. Trump filmed and distributed a video from the White House Rose Garden in which he again remarked on the size and strength of the storm. The video continued a tradition from last September, when Mr. Trump decided to comment on Hurricane Florence as the storm approached the Carolinas.

In a video, he called that storm, a Category 4, “one of the wettest we’ve ever seen, from the standpoint of water.”

This time, his commentary on Dorian — which he called an “absolute monster” — was similarly matter-of-fact and very nearly awe-struck.

“It may be that you’re going to evacuate,” Mr. Trump said into the camera as images of the storm were interspersed into the video. “We’re going to see what happens. We’re waiting. It does seem almost certain that it’s hitting dead center.”

He paused before continuing with his forecast: “And that’s not good.”

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