These ‘apocalyptic’ photos from an Australian storm are … real?


A large storm cloud covers Sydney on March 5, 2014. (Cassie Trotter/Getty Images)

Fake weather photos are so frustratingly ubiquitous that we’ve been conditioned to assume any truly incredible picture is either a screenshot from “Day After Tomorrow” or a misappropriation from Flickr.

First there were the “tidal wave” photos from Superstorm Sandy. Then the chilling supercell over Copenhagen. People continue to claim Niagara Falls is frozen over, despite the fact that that’s (a) demonstrably false, and (b) based, often, on old pictures. Fake weather pictures, shared without credits or accurate captions, have in fact become such a phenomenon that a popular Twitter account, @PicPedant, has devoted itself to debunking them.

So when these photos from Sydney’s so-called “apocalyptic” thunderstorm went viral Wednesday morning — earning, in some cases, more than 9,000 likes on Instagram — I naturally headed straight to Google to see which doomsday blockbuster they’d been stripped from. And I was astounded to discover that they’re… actually real.

In fact, if there’s any factual wrinkle in this whole thing, it’s that the storm itself was neither apocalyptic nor terribly out of the ordinary — Capital Weather Gang’s Jason Samenow said it looks like “more or less an ordinary summer thunderstorm.” The intense color of the clouds owes to the height of the storm, which extends tens of thousands of feet into the atmosphere and blocks out sunlight. This phenomenon, incidentally, also explains why the sky gets so dark during run-of-the-mill summer storms in D.C.

So in short: The pics are real. Their backstory has been exaggerated. This is the Internet, after all — what did you expect?

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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