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Hurricane Dorian, one of the Atlantic’s most intense storms on record, baffles the president

Trump’s Category 5 blind spot could hinder response efforts and is in keeping with his overarching dismissal of scientific findings.

President Trump said Sept. 1 he was unsure if he's ever heard of a Category 5 hurricane during a briefing with FEMA officials. (Video: The Washington Post)
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Hurricane Dorian is a storm for the record books, having set milestones for the strongest hurricane at landfall, based on its 185 mph winds (tied for that spot with the 1935 Labor Day hurricane), and second-strongest hurricane observed in the Atlantic based on wind speed alone.

Yet President Trump seemed baffled by how a hurricane could reach Category 5 intensity, the highest category on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, which has been widely used since 1974.

‘Catastrophic’ Hurricane Dorian blasting Bahamas while bearing down on Florida, threatening Georgia and the Carolinas

On Sunday, Trump expressed shock at Hurricane Dorian’s intensity, saying:

“I’m not sure I’ve ever even heard of a Category 5. I knew it existed. And I’ve seen some Category 4s. You don’t even see them that much. But a Category 5 is something that, uh, I don’t know that I’ve never even heard the term, other than I know it’s there. That’s the ultimate. And that’s what we have, unfortunately.”

This isn’t the first time that Trump has expressed shock at a Category 5 storm. When Hurricane Irma struck Florida in 2017, Trump said he “never even knew a Category 5 existed.”

Then when Hurricane Michael struck the Florida Panhandle last year as a Category 5 storm, Trump again said he hadn’t heard of a Category 5 storm.

Oddly, though, when it comes to Hurricane Maria, which hit Puerto Rico in 2017, obliterating the island’s infrastructure, Trump has repeatedly called the storm a Category 5 — though it was a Category 4 storm at landfall. He has also lambasted the island’s government and repeatedly sought to hold back federal aid or tie it to government reforms, something he has not done in responding to natural disasters in other parts of the United States.

Trump’s ignorance of how hurricanes are classified would not be a problem if he were not the one in charge of hurricane response, making sure the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other agencies are up to the task of aiding hard-hit areas.

If there were ever a president with intimate knowledge of what damage Category 5 storms can cause, it would be Trump, given how many such storms have occurred during his presidency.

This makes his surprise at how powerful such storms can get even more odd, because four Category 5s have occurred on his watch — Irma, Maria, Michael and Dorian — though not all of these storms were Category 5 at landfall.

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 or contribute to confusion at the highest levels of government as well as among people in harm’s way.

This year is the fourth straight year with a Category 5 in the Atlantic, the longest such streak on record. And climate studies show a trend toward more Category 4 and 5 storms in the future, along with more frequent instances of storms that rapidly intensify, which can complicate evacuation and storm preparation.

However, it’s unlikely that Trump will accept such findings, given his rejection of climate science in general.