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My Own Missile Photos, More Contrail Fun

By Jesse Ferrell, Meteorologist/Community Director
11/18/2010, 12:25:19 PM

Unless you live under a rock, you probably heard the debate last week about the "missile" seen off the coast of Los Angeles was really a missile or an airplane contrail. Well, the Pentagon has now definitively said: It was a plane, which is what I and had originally assumed. Photos of vertical contrails that I have taken which resemble missile trails are shown below (I took the first one last weekend).


The basic explanation is that the atmosphere curves around the earth, so things that appear to be going straight up can actually be going across. And things that appear to be "on fire" can just be reflecting the sun's light. Sadly, the week after the L.A. self-induced hoax, at least two sprung up in New York City ( & as people feared the vertical contrails. I took the following photo in Wichita, Kansas in January 2007:


Speaking of contrails making you think you're seeing something else, here's another interesting "tornado" on Pikes Peak, Colorado, snapped by a Photo Gallery user:


It's somewhat obvious in this photo that it's only a vertical contrail, but is less so in other pictures they took that day.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or


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