When meteorologist Jesse Ferrell first saw the amazing waterspout image on Tuesday morning, while browsing social media sites, he had a difficult time believing it was real.
The towering ocean twister off Florida, with its perfectly shaped funnel streaming skyward and bending into an ominous dark cloud, was that magnificent. (Waterspouts, essentially, are tornadoes that form over water. They’re often associated with thunderstorms and are sometimes accompanied by strong winds, hail, and frequent lightning.)
Plus, the photograph had been so widely copied and shared, without sourcing, which opened it to suspicion. And people were commenting that it must be fake.
However, Ferrell, as stated in his AccuWeather blog, tracked down the source as Joey Mole, who also videotaped the waterspout with his iPhone. (Video is posted below; note that it contains profanity.)
“I’m 95 percent sure of the photo’s authenticity, which is about as sure as I get without taking the picture myself,” Ferrell wrote.
Ferrell, who said some versions on Facebook had been compressed or altered in an attempt to make the waterspout look even more dramatic, persuaded Mole to email him the original.
(“Each time you upload a picture to Facebook, they compress the image, so a lossy image [a compressed image where data is lost] is a sure sign of a fake,” Ferrell stated.)
Ferrell then extracted what is known as EXIF data (pictured, at right), which revealed the precise time of the photo, proving that Mole had the original.
The waterspout, which came ashore north of Tampa, was one of several waterspouts spotted and photographed Monday night near Tampa.
But the image Mole captured from his deck in Safety Harbor—”My backyard!” he exclaimed on Facebook—stands out for reasons that need no explanation. It’s monstrous and perfect.
The towering waterspout made landfall 250 feet from Mole’s dock and passed over his neighbor’s home, two houses down.
However, Ferrell points out, that bright spot in the lower right corner is not the sun. “What looks like the ‘sun’ at the bottom of Joey’s image is actually his iPhone’s flash reflecting in the window,” Ferrell writes. “Notice there is a slight reflection of vertical bars (probably window blinds) across the center of the waterspout.”
The image was extremely popular on Tampa Bay’s 98ROCK radio station Facebook page, where it was “liked” more than 17,000 times and shared more than 19,000 times.
In the comments, a storm chaser named Nick Greco, exclaimed: “Wow … that is the most spectacular waterspout/tornado I have ever seen. Simply amazing.”
Aaron Emery had a different response: “At what point do you put down the camera and take cover?”
Wrote Mole, in reference to all the people who copied and shared the image: “I don’t need to watermark it. I’m not looking to take credit. It’s just an amazing picture.”