Fact Check

Volcano Clouds and Lightning Bolts

Fauxtography: Photographs purportedly show a volcanic lightning storm in Chile.

Published Sep 1, 2009

Claim:   Photographs show a volcanic lightning storm in Chile.


Example:   [Collected via e-mail, July 2009]

I got this forward. All it says was Thunderstorms in Chile. Is this real?



Origins:   In May 2008, much of the small town of Chaiten in southern Chile was wiped out by the eruption of a nearby volcano which had long been dormant. All but a few residents fled as the Chaiten volcano buried the area under a layer of ash:

A volcano in southern Chile erupting for the first time has buried the surrounding region under a blanket of ash and has turned Chaiten into a ghost town, with its
4,000 residents facing an uncertain future.

"There's no historical record on this volcano, so we have no way of knowing if the ash emissions will continue for weeks or even months," Interior Minister Edmundo Perez Yoma told reporters a day after the Chaiten volcano blew its top.

All 4,000 inhabitants of Chaiten have been evacuated to nearby towns and cities, leaving only a skeleton crew of police, military and government officials to protect the abandoned properties.

A few locals have stubbornly refused to leave their city, which looks like a ghost town in television reports.

On 2 May 2008, the Chaiten area experienced a lightning storm that produced the scenes captured in the above-displayed photographs, dramatic scenes of lightning bolts above and around the billowing plumes of volcanic dust:

Two spectacular forces of nature produced an incredible brew in the skies of Chile as a volcanic eruption met a lightning storm.

Tonnes of dust and ash from the eruption of the Chaiten volcano poured into the night sky just as an electric storm was passing overhead.

The resulting collision created an extraordinary sight as lightning flickered around the dust cloud in the fiery, orange glow of the volcano.

Cases of electrical storms breaking out directly above erupting volcanoes are well documented, although scientists differ on what causes them.

Higher resolution versions of these photographs (along with other pictures of the Chaiten eruption) can be viewed on the web site of the Boston Globe.

That same newspaper also published a follow-up report with pictures of Chaiten taken in the aftermath of the volcano:

The small town of Chaiten, Chile was largely destroyed by [the 2008] eruption of a nearby volcano (famous for the lightning-strike eruption photos). Flooded, buried in ash, cut off from utilities and abandoned for many months, the town of Chaiten has been declared "dead" by Chile's government, which now plans to relocate the citizens to a safer location several kilometers up the coast. The volcano is still active, but that has not stopped a handful of die-hard residents who wish to stay in their old town and try rebuilding despite a lack of any governmental assistance. Here a few photos showing recent scenes from the region.

Last updated:   2 April 2015


    Agence France Presse.   "Chilean Volcano Turns Chaiten Into Ghost Town."

    Philippine Daily Inquirer.   5 May 2008.

    The Australian.   "Earth and Sky in Battle Above Volcano."

    8 May 2008.

    Taylor, Alan.   "Chaiten Volcano Still Active."

    Boston.com.   4 June 2008.

    Taylor, Alan.   "Followup: Chaiten Volcano."

    Boston.com.   5 March 2009.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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