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Is that really a picture of Hurricane Sandy descending on New York?


It’s actually a picture from 2011, of a thunderstorm over Manhattan during a tornado alert (which turned out to be uneventful in the end, although the US and other countries were struck with an unusually high number of tornados that year). The original source appears to be this Wall Street Journal article, and the picture was taken through a tinted window by a finance professional called Charles Menjivar (from his workplace, most likely - his current employers are situated pretty much where this picture looks to be taken from).

It is traditional, when the US is menaced by a weather event, for people to tweet pictures of things that aren’t it. Generally they’re pictures of supercell thunderstorms, because they look way cool and a lot more threatening than actual hurricanes, which mostly just look sort of grey and wet and blurry unless you’re looking at them from above. Here are some of the more usual supercell picture suspects, which have previously been claimed to be hurricanes Isaac, Irene and (from the pre-Twitter days) Isabel, but weren’t. Keep a weather eye out for them.

UPDATE: Oh look, another one:

That, as Elliot Bentley points out, is actually a stock picture of the George Washington Bridge from 2009.

UPDATE UPDATE: Hey, you know who might want to stop tweeting pictures of “Sandy” without checking them? BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kaczynski (who’s normally a bit more reliable than this):

That second one is so fake (not just misattributed, it’s actually a Photoshopped picture of - naturally - a supercell thunderstorm) that it’s even on Snopes. (In his defence, he has corrected the latter one.)

UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE: Another one getting retweeted all over the place (and even written up by The Washington Post, although they’ve since killed the link) is this one of soldiers standing guard over the Tomb of the Unkowns even as Sandy rages around them:

It’s also not true - the picture is from September, as the 3rd US Infantry Regiment (aka The Old Guard), the regiment that keeps watch over the Tomb, themselves tweeted:

The general claim, at least, has truth to it: the Old Guard are still maintaining their vigil at the Tomb, as the pictures they posted on Facebook show. (Thanks to Tom Mason for the tip.)


(That’s from the well-known cinéma vérité documentary The Day After Tomorrow, in case you hadn’t spotted it. Here’s what it actually looks like at the Statue of Liberty right now. It’s… a bit grey and blurry. And very noisy.)

UPDATE ^ 5: Special congratulations to BuzzFeed, who in their post debunking misattributed pictures that aren’t Sandy manage to misattribute the very first picture:

At this point, regular readers may already be saying “hey, that looks an awful lot like a supercell thunderstorm!” Yep. Once again, Snopes is already there.

UPDATE ^ 6: Ace work from Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic, who’s doing the same thing but with the excellent idea of putting big FAKE/REAL graphics on the images so people can spread them on social media without worrying they’ll get taken out of context. Canny.

UPDATE ^ 7: SHARKS! There’s a bunch of pictures doing the rounds of sharks supposedly swimming around flooded streets. This one, we’re still unsure about (Alexis Madrigal is trying to track down the supposed photographer). It’s reportedly from Brigantine, New Jersey - if anybody recognises the street, holla:

But this one:

Is totally a fake. First page of image search results for “shark fin”, you get this - which, helpfully, has really distinctive markings:

In case you’re in any doubt, Alexis produced this nice overlay of the two (also available in GIF form in The Atlantic’s article). They’re identical:

While we’re on shark duty, be on the lookout for this one, which did the rounds following Irene, and is also a Photoshop job:

Oh, hey, there’s a surprise, it’s already going round again:

UPDATE ^ 8: Right, I’m calling it. That first shark pic is a fake. Probably.

Michael J. Faris alerts us to what’s been reported as the original source of the shark picture - this guy’s Facebook page. He gives his location as Brigantine, NJ; he’s also got lots of other pictures of the flooding there. And he has the shark picture.

But he also has the second shark picture - the one we know is definitely a fake. And he keeps insisting it’s real, while his friends in the comments congratulate him on his Photoshop skills. And, in what my finely honed internet detective skills suggest could possibly be the giveaway comment beneath the first shark picture, one of his friends says “That’s the leopard shark from la jolla cove nice try kevO”. So, yeah. Fakety fakety fake.

UPDATE ^ 9: Might go to sleep now. Please keep following Alexis Madrigal’s post over at The Atlantic, which is still being updated. It has now attained epic length, and features a seal.

MORNING: A nice easy sharky one to wake up to:

That’s a pretty well-known Photoshop job that goes back to the flooding of a Toronto’s Union Station on June 1 this year (it subsequently got passed around as “the collapse of the shark tank at a scientific centre in Kuwait”).

Also, someone helpfully seems to have collated lots of fake shark pictures into a single tweet that gathers all the wrongness into one place:

DAY 2: Let’s have some pictures that are real, shall we?

That picture of the construction works at Ground Zero flooding is definitely real, and is likely to become one of the iconic images from Sandy - it was taken by John Minchillo, a photographer with the Associated Press. So, shamelessly jacking The Atlantic’s verification style:

We can’t confirm it 100%, but… this Twitter account seems to be the original source for the image, supposedly of a trampoline entangled in power lines in Milford, Connecticut. However, they then give credit to a different Twitter user, who has a protected account. But a Spokeo search gives an address for someone of that name in Milford, CT, and both Bing and StreetView show images of houses on that street which seem to match the building in that picture (as does the layout of the power lines.) So on balance, we’re happy to call this one real.

This one doesn’t seem to offer much to go on (via Brandon Gressette):

But it’s real - it’s a picture of Casino Pier in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. It was taken by Brian Thompson of NBC New York - here’s a better quality version of it, and here’s another of the same scene from a different angle.

Here is a picture of a man saving a dog. However, the man is not saving the dog from Sandy, as the New Statesman’s Alex Hern (author of this handy guide to basic image verification) points out:

The Atlantic traces it back even further, to Tropical Storm Sendong in the Philippines in December 2011: So:

AS BEFORE: If you’ve spotted any non-Sandy pictures that are being tweeted (or facebooked, or instagrammed) as Sandy, do give us a shout on @IsTwitWrong (or my regular account @flashboy) and I’ll look at them.

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    People are just trying to find ways to scare themselves.
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