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Vetting Florida Waterspout Pic, Toronto Storm Photo

July 9, 2013; 3:00 PM ET
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When I saw this photo this morning on social media, I couldn't believe it was real:

After vetting it (see below), I believe it is legit and is one of dozens of photos of the photogenic waterspout that came onshore north of Tampa, Fla., Monday night (see photos on Twitter and Facebook from Denis Philips (ABC) and Paul Dellegatto (FOX)). The photo (and video below) was taken by Joey Mole, of Safety Harbor, Fla. Here's his video:

Joey says he had never seen a waterspout before, and neither had his neighbors, who had lived there for 40 years. It made landfall only 250 feet from Joey's dock and went over his neighbor's home, two houses down.

I'm 95 percent sure of the photo's authenticity, which is about as sure as I get without taking the picture myself), after following my own instructions for finding the source and vetting the image. I originally saw it when a copy of it was uploaded to a Facebook weather page who didn't list the source. The copy was severely lossy (each time you upload a picture to Facebook, they compress the image, so a lossy image is a sure sign of a fake). I probed further and they listed the source as Paul Dellegato. I found that he had also uploaded the photo with no source, but it was clearly still a copy. I checked Paul's and Denis' Facebook pages to see if the original was submitted by one of their fans, but alas, it was not.

Above is an example of a new, non-compressed original image, with a rectangle of the copied image inlaid. Notice how the inner photo is blocky instead of grainy? That means it's been re-compressed several times.

Later this morning, someone (I don't even remember who, I apologize) sent me a third copy of it, shared by 98Rock's Facebook Page (a radio station in Tampa). This one looked in better condition (and was uploaded first!) so I checked their fan photos from yesterday, and voila, found a clear copy -- the original -- uploaded by Joey Mole. I messaged Joey on Facebook and he was nice enough to email me the original photo, from which I extracted the EXIF data below, proving that he had the original, and he also gave me the video from his phone which I show above.

By the way: The "sun" at the bottom of Joey's image is actually his iPhone's flash reflecting in the window -- notice there is a slight reflection of vertical bars (probably window blinds) across the center of the waterspout.

Another photo that I wondered about was this one, tweeted by The Weather Network's Danya Vettese, showing a storm near Toronto, Canada, yesterday (which cut power to 300,000 customers and caused extensive flooding).

Dana is a reliable source, but our Canadian blogger Brett Anderson (who, by the way, has a blog about why the storm occurred) brought the photo to me, checking with me to find out if it was real. At first I was suspicious, but after talking to Dana, confirming through Bing Maps that the location was correct, and looking at the radar from the event, I believe it is plausible. Brett and I first mistook it for a supercell "mothership cloud" but upon further inspection I believe it was actually a longer shelf cloud, stretched vertically in this panorama.

The radar data (download here - from Buffalo, N.Y., because I can't access archived Canadian radar data) showed a strong storm that could have easily looked this severe when approaching the Toronto Island Airport. Dana backs that up, based on her observation of the storm from Oakville, west of Toronto, and says she saw a similar photo from the area. She received the photo in question from a co-worker of her sister-in-law. I've asked her to put me in contact with the photographer so I can further vet the pic.


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