When it comes to grading hurricanes, President Donald Trump is off the mark about Maria.
First, he won’t let go of the false claim that Puerto Rico was hit by a Category 5 hurricane. He also errs in citing high grades from a Clinton-era official for the way he’s responded to the island’s plight.
TRUMP: “They got hit dead center — if you look at those maps — by a Category 5. Nobody’s ever heard of a 5 hitting land. Usually by that time it’s dissipated. It hit right through — and kept to a 5 — it hit right through the middle of the island, right through the middle of Puerto Rico. There’s never been anything like that.” — comments Thursday after a White House meeting with Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello
THE FACTS: That account is wrong. Maria made landfall on Puerto as a Category 4 storm at 6:35 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 20, with winds of 155 mph (249 kph), just short of the 157 mph (253 kph) of a 5. Nor did it rake across the island as a Category 5. It weakened, and left the island some seven hours later as barely a Category 3.
The fact Maria fell just short of a 5 is of no comfort to people on the devastated island, but Trump is distorting the historical record with his persistent mischaracterization.
Past hurricanes, such as Andrew in 1992, have sometimes been upgraded from Category 4 to 5 after further review of damage on the ground, but as of now, the National Hurricane Center lists Maria as an upper limit Category 4.
TRUMP: “We keep being given credit. You know, it’s very nice that the gentleman who worked for Bill Clinton, when he was president, gave us an A-plus. And that included Puerto Rico. Gave us an A-plus. And I thought that was really very nice. And I think — I really believe he’s correct. We have done a really great job.” — comments after Rossello meeting
THE FACTS: James Lee Witt, the Clinton administration emergency chief cited by Trump, says he never gave Trump an A-plus for his Puerto Rico efforts because it is too early to judge them. Trump might be forgiven for thinking he got that praise from Witt, because published reports suggested he did.
But Witt said in an AP interview and in a statement that his praise regarded hurricanes Harvey and Irma only. He thought the Trump administration responded effectively to them.
But Maria? “Even today it is yet to be determined whether the ultimate response to that hurricane will get an A, C or F or something else,” he said. “As time goes by that will become apparent.”