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Tornado Photo Goes Viral: Does it Really Show a Mass of Tornadoes?

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You may have recently seen this image circulating online. It was posted to Facebook by a user with the caption, “intense supercell with a mass of tornadoes.”  The post was then shared nearly 200,000 times over the next few days.

The image is mine, and I am here to tell you, it is photoshopped. It does not show a mass of tornadoes. It shows the progression of a single tornado as it formed and grew to an EF-3 stovepipe tornado. I documented this with my Supercell Adventure group near Dodge City, Kansas on May 24, 2016.

Tornado Photo Goes Viral: Does it Really Show a Mass of Tornadoes?

Photo: Dodge City, Kansas, Tornado – Savannah Weingart

I created the image for the Wikimedia Science Competition, for the category of image series. The image shows the progression of a single tornado. I time-lapsed the formation of the tornado, taking a photograph every second over a 30-minute span. You can see the timelapse here. I then took eight single images from that to create “Evolution of a Tornado.” It won its category.

Of course, I was upfront about my techniques and the ways the image was manipulated when I entered. However, this didn’t stop others from uploading the image with an extraordinary caption. I see this a lot with weather images. Someone takes a great photo of a shelf cloud or mesocyclone, and then it gets reposted later as a weather event making major news, instantly going viral.

Use websites like Snopes to check images before you share them, especially if you are suspicious.