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Are fake tornado photos a problem?

Thomas Loades

Perhaps you don't come across many — or perhaps none; but I'm finding it frustrating that more and more weather reference books on the market are using fake images of tornadoes. It bothers me more because I find tornado to be a thing of beauty, and the fake ones frequently look . . . well, ugly. I also find that they are being used more and more often in juvenile-oriented educational books: just a quick browse through the "Tornadoes" section of amazon.com shows you that —
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I think that's the worst facet of the use of these fakes; they're used in books that are supposed to be teaching kids about tornadoes for perhaps the first time, yet through unrealistic imagery. (Look close on the second cover, and you'll notice that the "tornado" has a house in its "vortex"!) By showing tornadoes against blue skies or non-threatening thunderstorms, they can conversely decrease a child's perceptions of tornado risk ("Yeah, right, like a tornado would happen when the sun's shining! What've I got to worry about?") or increase them ("Uh-oh, a storm — there's gonna be a tornado! YAHHHHHHHH!!!") — or, at any rate, alter them. And if the spectacular side of tornadoes is (attemptedly) emphasized, this could increse a child's desire to see a tornado at an unsafe distance — i.e. REALLY close, and when they should be in the cellar. If they don't read the book and so read the part that tells them they should go to the cellar, and just flip through all the pictures, there may be a bad trend coming along.

TO our trained eyes, we know a fake when we see one. But to those eyes untrained, I think that's where the problem lies. The fakes aren't just in kids' books — not where I've seem them all — so the whole "unrealistic spectacle" could be a problem for uneducated adults with camcorders too.
 
Very interesting samples. Though I would have to consider these art -- only the bottom one seems to involve intentional trickery. Yes, this topic is controversial and has been brought up many times here and on WX-CHASE... I'm sure the replies will be coming down the pipeline shortly.
 
I wonder what actually goes on with the doctored photos on book covers (like examples 1 and 4) - would be interesting to know if these done by the original photographer, or were they altered by the publishing company later on. I'd have to think it would be cheaper for a publisher to buy a generic sunset photo then Photoshop a tornado on to it instead of buying a photo of the real thing.
 
I personally can tell between a real one and a fake one. I'm sure many others can do as well...

Tornadoes aren't the only kind of weather that is faked. I remember a fake photo that claimed to be a snapshot of Hurricane Isabel over the Atlantic, but it was actually a picture of a squall line moving over Lake Michigan. Anybody remember that one?
 
Seeing fake tornado photos is children's science books is very annoying but not unexpected. After selling some butterfly photos to a publishing company for a children's level "educational" book for the library market, I bought the book and was amazed at the errors. One of my butterflies was clipped out and put against a different background. Another butterfly was labeled a moth. There were more errors in the poorly written text.

At that point, I decided to spend some time in the children's section of the bookstore looking up topics that I have some knowledge (insects, weather, medicine) and found that most science books aimed at the elementary and junior high school levels are poorly written, full of factual errors and have terrible images/photos. Books aimed at the school library market are especially bad. Most are junk.

I suspect publishers try to make the books as cheap as possible to sell to school systems that are poorly funded and they cut corners. In addition, those buying the books may lack the scientific knowledge (or the time) to weed out the bad stuff. The buyers go for some pretty (and possibly fake) images and an exciting cover. In the case of tornadoes, there are plenty of nice public domain (royalty-free) tornado images that can be used for a cheap book. There is no excuse for fake tornado pictures unless clearly labeled as a artists' conception.

Bill Hark
 
Originally posted by Richard Halter
I had heard that the \"hurricane Isabel\" one was really a tropical storm shot from the Pacific, not a squall line shot.

Not sure where it was shot, but it most likely wasn't out in the ocean close to a hurricane or tropical storm - The sea surface is much too calm. The "gust front" also looks a little suspect given the fact that the clouds only appear to be 500-1000 feet thick at most...
 
I agree. I think the gust front is snipped off a picture of a supercell (looks like there're a few striations just above it), but it seems to be joined onto stratocumulus. Anyway, since when did a hurricane have a gust front on its leading edge?
 
Originally posted by Bill Hark

I decided to spend some time in the children's section of the bookstore looking up topics that I have some knowledge (insects, weather, medicine) and found that most science books aimed at the elementary and junior high school levels are poorly written, full of factual errors and have terrible images/photos. Books aimed at the school library market are especially bad. Most are junk.

This is definitely true. Most of the weather books I harbored my interest in I now know to be filled with inaccuracy after inaccuracy — and more creep in because most of those books that we get here are British, and it seems that a lot of facts fall off information that crosses the Atlantic, especially in regard to historical events and geography. (I don't know HOW many books say that the longest tornado path is still 295 miles long, by the Mattoon-Charleston tornado in 1917 . . . and the British seem convinced that the Tri-state tornado only struck Annapolis or Ellington, MO, cut a path 200 yards wide, and killed 823 people. Not as good as the book which said the Tri-state went MS-IL-IN. WOW!! Oh, and they seem equally convinced that the Superoutbreak was April 2-3, 1974. )
 
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