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Trump unleashed a Twitter storm as Dorian blew past Florida

As Dorian loomed, the president took to social media, tapping out hurricane updates with attacks on political enemies, disputes over unfavorable coverage and lots of thoughts on former FBI Director James Comey.
President Donald Trump speaks to the media as he returns to the White House from Camp David, Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019, in Washington. [JACQUELYN MARTIN | AP]
Published Sep. 5
Updated Sep. 5

As Hurricane Dorian headed toward Florida this past week — seemingly on a direct path toward the wealthy barrier island of Palm Beach — President Donald Trump assured reporters he wasn’t worried about the fate of his private club there.

“Mar-a-Lago can handle itself,” Trump said Friday. “It’s a very powerful place.”

Still, Trump acknowledged, Dorian was a “monster” hurricane that “could be very devastating.”

For the next few days, as Florida held its breath while Dorian grew to a Category 5 storm, Trump kept a close watch on the storm. According to the Associated Press, Trump received hourly updates on Dorian, even while golfing at his private Virginia club.

The storm didn’t stray too far from Trump’s Twitter feed, either.

In the past 10 days, Trump posted about 200 tweets, mixing hurricane updates with whatever set him off in the moment.

Past presidents have seized on disasters as an opportunity to transcend politics and comfort the nation, if only for a moment. For Trump, even as Dorian canceled his travel plans and took lives in the Bahamas, he continued to call out political enemies and the news outlets covering this deadly storm.

While many Dorian-related tweets relayed vital government information, others challenged Puerto Rico leaders. His attempts at meteorology via Twitter vexed his own administration when he claimed Alabama was at risk from Dorian — which it wasn’t — leading the National Weather Service to correct him. He doubled down on Wednesday, sharing a photo of Dorian’s projected path that some suggested was doctored to include Alabama.

While Trump has never shied away from using the power of his social media presence during disasters, his tweets during this storm became the objects of intense speculation.

Trump tweeted 16 times about Dorian between Monday, Aug. 26, and Wednesday, Sept. 4. For Trump, that’s not an unprecedented number of tweets related to a hurricane.

During 2017′s Category 5 Hurricane Maria that swamped Puerto Rico, Trump tweeted about the storm seven times in the week or so of landfall, but then more in subsequent weeks following criticism of his administration’s handling of its response.

In 2018, he tweeted more than 30 times about Hurricane Florence before and after the Category 4 storm bashed the Carolinas. He tweeted another 14 times about Hurricane Michael as that Category 5 storm hit the Florida Panhandle.

Below is a timeline of Trump’s statements on Twitter throughout Dorian’s slow and deadly trek toward Florida that shows a commander in chief clearly enthralled by the storm but who also appears fixated on a wide array of other topics.

Monday, Aug. 26

The forecast cone for Tropical Storm Dorian as of 2 a.m. Monday shows it becoming a hurricane Thursday as it nears Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The cone represents probable paths of the storm, not its size. [National Hurricane Center]

As Tropical Storm Dorian gained strength in the Atlantic Ocean and appeared poised to be headed toward Puerto Rico, President Donald Trump was attending the G7 summit in France. He took the time to send two tweets disputing a news story that said he’d suggesting using nuclear weapons to weaken or disrupt hurricanes.

Tweets about hurricanes

What else was on the president’s mind

The G7 summit in France.

His trade war with China.

Tuesday, Aug. 27

Jorge Ortiz works to tie down his roof as he prepares for the arrival of Tropical Storm Dorian, in the Martín Peña neighborhood of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019. The 50-year-old construction worker was taking no chances as Dorian approached Puerto Rico on Tuesday and threatened to brush past the island's southwest coast at near-hurricane strength. (AP Photo/Gianfranco Gaglione) [GIANFRANCO GAGLIONE | AP]

With forecasts still appearing to show Tropical Storm Dorian headed toward Puerto Rico, Trump issued his first tweet about the encroaching storm and signed an emergency declaration for the island, which is still recovering from last hurricane season. A hurricane watch was issued for Puerto Rico on Tuesday evening.

Tweets about the storm

What else was on the president’s mind

Bed bugs at Doral

Promoting Fox News host Jeannine Pirro’s book

Poll numbers and crowd sizes

Wednesday, Aug. 28

Emergency Center personnel stand next to a tv screen showing a meteorological image of the tropical storm Dorian, as they await its arrival, in Ceiba, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. Puerto Rico is facing its first major test of emergency preparedness since the 2017 devastation of Hurricane Maria as Tropical Storm Dorian nears the U.S. territory at near-hurricane force. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa) [RAMON ESPINOSA | AP]

President Trump sends a tweet noting that his administration is closely tracking the storm “as it heads, as usual, to Puerto Rico.” The president also took to Twitter to complain about the island’s politicians and said he is “the best thing that’s ever happened to Puerto Rico!”

Dorian ended up taking a more northern track than anticipated, sparing Puerto Rico from the brunt of the storm, which increased Wednesday to a Category 1. But forecasters began predicting that the storm could make a direct hit on Florida.

Tweets about the storm

What else was on the president’s mind

New York Times columnist Bret Stephens

Disappointment in Fox News coverage

The wall

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand ending presidential campaign

Thursday, Aug. 29

City of Tampa Parks & Recreation employee Rod McKinney helps Horace Whittington 61, of Tampa load sandbags in his truck for his mother 91-year-old mother in preparation for Hurricane Dorian at MacFarlane Park in Tampa, Florida on Thursday, August 29, 2019. [OCTAVIO JONES | TIMES | Times]

Trump tweets thanks to first responders for their preparation and warns about the storm’s growing size and its potential to hit Florida. At this point, the projected path of the storm runs right by his Palm Beach resort Mar-a-Lago. In a video message posted to Twitter, he said the storm could be “an absolute monster.”

Tweets about the storm

What else was on the president’s mind

MSNBC Lawrence O’Donnell retracted Deutsche Bank story

Former FBI Director James Comey

Friday, Aug. 30

Workers board up a shop’s window front as they make preparations for the arrival of Hurricane Dorian, in Freeport, Bahamas, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019. Forecasters said the hurricane is expected to keep on strengthening and become a Category 3 later in the day. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa) [RAMON ESPINOSA | AP]

As Americans prepared for the Labor Day weekend, many Floridians were scrambling to buy hurricane supplies and watching the forecast. Hurricane Dorian was slowly headed toward Florida and gaining strength. On Twitter, President Trump reposted his video message about the storm but also spent time sending 10 tweets about former FBI Director James Comey and several more about the economy, among other topics.

Tweets about the storm

What else was on the president’s mind

Automaker General Motors

Inspector general report on former FBI Director James Comey’s memos

The Federal Reserve

Iran failed missile launch

Saturday, Aug. 31

People line up to buy water at a store before the arrival of Hurricane Dorian, in Freeport, Bahamas, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019. Forecasters said the hurricane is expected to keep on strengthening and become a Category 3 later in the day. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa) [RAMON ESPINOSA | AP]

President Trump sent out 23 tweets and a slew of retweets related to the storm but also on a number of other topics, including the border wall and Comey. In the early evening, he tweeted that he had been briefed regarding a mass shooting in Texas.

Trump also tweeted about a failed Iran missile launch, including a picture of the launch site that national security experts have speculated was likely classified information that unveiled previously secret American spy technology.

Tweets about the storm

What else was on the president’s mind

Former FBI Director James Comey’s memos

Confidentiality agreements with his campaign

Disappointment in Fox News coverage

Mass shooting in Texas

Sunday, Sept. 1

President Donald Trump, left, listens as Kenneth Graham, director of NOAA's National Hurricane Center, on screen, gives an update during a briefing about Hurricane Dorian at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019, in Washington, at right of Trump is Acting Administrator Pete Gaynor, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler, and Neil Jacobs, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) [JACQUELYN MARTIN | AP]

Slow-moving Hurricane Dorian became a Category 5 storm and began lashing the Bahamas. Trump tweeted that Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Alabama would most likely be hit “harder than anticipated.” The National Weather Service would later have to correct that Alabama did not appear threatened by Dorian.

He also spent time tweeting about China, Comey and about “Will and Grace” actress Debra Messing. Meanwhile, Mar-a-Lago is evacuated.

Tweets about the storm

What else was on the president’s mind

Trade war with China

Former FBI Director James Comey

Actress Debra Messing

Mass shooting in Texas

Monday, Sept. 2

Strong winds from Hurricane Dorian blow the tops of trees and brush while whisking up water from the surface of a canal that leads to the sea, located behind the brush at top, seen from the balcony of a hotel in Freeport, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, Monday, Sept. 2, 2019. Hurricane Dorian hovered over the Bahamas on Monday, pummeling the islands with a fearsome Category 4 assault that forced even rescue crews to take shelter until the onslaught passes. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa) [RAMON ESPINOSA | AP]

There are at least five confirmed deaths from Dorian in the Bahamas. As the storm continued its assault of the islands, Trump doubled down on his earlier assertion that Alabama could be “hit” by the storm following news stories refuting that assessment. He spent time on Twitter complaining about “fake news” and talking about a number of topics, including trade and the economy.

Meanwhile, Trump, who canceled a planned trip to Poland, instead spent Labor Day golfing on his Virginia property, while receiving hourly updates about Dorian.

Tweets about the storm

What else was on the president’s mind

Stock market

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka’s Fox News interview

Former FBI Director James Comey

News coverage of Trump

Tuesday, Sept. 3

Photo of the Hope Town Harbor Lodge in Abaco, Bahamas being ravaged by Hurricane Dorian on Monday, September 2, 2019 Photo Courtesy of Cleopatra Sykes [Courtesy of Cleopatra Sykes]

Dorian, now a Category 2 storm, headed away from the Bahamas and north along the east coast of the continental U.S. In the early evening, Trump tweeted that the country “may be getting a little bit lucky” regarding Dorian but urged people not to let their guards down. He also announced he was signing an emergency declaration for North Carolina.

Tweets about the storm

What else was on the president’s mind

Trade war with China

The Federal Reserve

FBI Director James Comey

London Mayor Sadiq Khan

Wednesday, Sept. 4

As Dorian continued up the eastern U.S. coastline, the devastation in the Bahamas came into view. The Bahamian death toll climbed to 20 and was expected to rise.

Meanwhile, Trump tweeted once again Wednesday afternoon about Dorian, but it wasn’t about the death toll. Instead, it was an effort to push back on criticism that his earlier warnings to Alabama about the storm were misleading.

For those keeping score, Trump tweeted about Comey 20 times during this time period — five more times than he did about Dorian.

2019 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide

HURRICANE SEASON IS HERE: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane

PREPARE YOUR STUFF: Get your documents and your data ready for a storm

BUILD YOUR KIT: The stuff you’ll need to stay safe — and comfortable — for the storm

PROTECT YOUR PETS: Your pets can’t get ready for a storm. That’s your job

NEED TO KNOW: Click here to find your evacuation zone and shelter

What Michael taught the Panhandle and Tampa Bay

What the Panhandle’s top emergency officials learned from Michael

‘We’re not going to give up.’ What a school superintendent learned from Michael

What Tampa Bay school leaders fear most from a storm

Tampa Bay’s top cops fear for those who stay behind

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

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    The system is expected to produce heavy rainfall and flash floods in the eastern Caribbean.
  2. Atlantic tropical cyclones and disturbances, as of 11 a.m. Thursday. National Hurricane Center
    It is projected to pass north of Puerto Rico on Saturday and east of the southeastern Bahamas on Sunday.
  3. Atlantic tropical cyclones and disturbances, as of 5 a.m. Thursday. National Hurricane Center
    The system should stay well east of the United States, according to forecasters.
  4. Tropical Storm Jerry is expected to become reach hurricane status on Friday. National Hurricane Center
    Forecasters expect the storm to reach hurricane status on Friday.
  5. This satellite image shows Hurricane Michael on Oct. 9, 2018, as it enters the Gulf of Mexico. It made landfall near Mexico Beach in the Panhandle as a Category 5 storm. [Photo courtesy of NOAA] NOAA
    Nearly a year after the storm, 18,000 claims are still open.
  6. The tropical outlook on Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2019. National Hurricane Center
    The depression is expected to become Tropical Storm Jerry by early Wednesday, then strengthen to a hurricane by the weekend.
  7. Hurricane Humberto's projected path as of 5 a.m. Tuesday, according to the National Hurricane Center. National Hurricane Center
    It could become a major hurricane by Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.
  8. The forecast track for Hurricane Humberto, as of 5 a.m. Monday. National Hurricane Center
    The Category 1 hurricane is moving away from the southeastern United States and expected to approach Bermuda by Wednesday night.
  9. Mos Antenor, 42, drives a bulldozer while clearing the road after Hurricane Dorian Mclean's Town, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, Friday Sept. 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa) RAMON ESPINOSA  |  AP
    Threatening to exacerbate islands’ problems, Humberto’s rains were falling on Abaco island.
  10. Members of the fire rescue team Task Force 8, from Gainesville, Florida, help remove a body one week after Hurricane Dorian hit The Mudd neighborhood in the Marsh Harbor area of Abaco Island, Bahamas, Monday, Sept. 9, 2019. Dorian, the most powerful hurricane in the northwestern Bahamas' recorded history, has killed at least 44 people in Bahamas as of Sunday, Sept. 8, according to the government. GONZALO GAUDENZI  |  AP
    Many in the northwestern Bahamas, known for its casinos, golf courses and mega yachts, worry they will be forced into deep poverty.
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