Description: Viral image
Circulating since: June 2008
Analysis: It's true that an EF4 tornado pummeled Harrisburg, Illinois on Feb. 29, 2012, killing six people and injuring at least 100. However, the photo above does not depict that storm, and in fact was taken almost four years earlier on June 10, 2008 by Lori Mehmen of Orchard, Iowa.
Nor does the photo necessarily depict a full-blown tornado. What we see in the image was described by KTTC-TV weatherman Randy Brock as follows:
The larger, rounded part of the storm that you see is the outside of the rotating mesocyclone of this supercell... a visible indicator of tornado potential. The lower, visible portion is not a tornado, but a wall cloud... an even stronger indicator of tornado potential. If there was going to be a tornado, that’s likely where it was going to be.
Mehmen's photo was put to ill use almost immediately. The day after it was taken a tornado touched down in the Little Sioux Boy Scout Ranch in western Iowa, killing four people and injuring dozens more. Forwarded emails circulating in its wake claimed the image showed that storm. For example:
Sent: Thursday, June 12, 2008 3:20 PM
Subject: Tornado that hit boy scout camp
Those poor boys scouts that lost their lives and the others that were injured by the tornado last evening did not have a chance. Attached is a picture of the tornado just as it was entering the camp site.
The image circulated again in April 2010 accompanied by the claim that it was taken in Yazoo City, Alabama, and in April 2011 with the claim it was taken during a tornado outbreak in Alabama. It's a sure thing we haven't see the last of it.
Sources and further reading:
KTTC-TV Weather Blog, 12 June 2008
Tornado Rips Through Boy Scout Camp in Iowa, Killing 4, Injuring 48
Associated Press, 12 June 2008
A Remarkable Photo from Tornado Country
The Lede (NYTimes.com), 13 June 2008
Iowa Tornado Photo... Or Not?
AccuWeather.com, 14 June 2008
Fake Tornado Photograph Falsely Attributed to Boy Scout Camp Storm
Meteorology News, 14 June 2008
Last updated 03/08/12