In early September 2017, Hurricane Irma, one of the strongest storms in recorded history, hit several Caribbean islands, causing massive damage and killing at least 13 people. The destruction was not dramatic enough for some, however, as a doctored image showing a purported news ticker reading “Irma Now Contains Sharks,” surged on social media:
In September 2018, this same form of jape circulated again as Hurricane Florence was slated to make landfall in the Mid-Atlantic states:
This image is, of course, a prank, with a news ticker digitally added as a reference to the Sharknado sci-fi movie series. Judging by the easily-missed watermark in the upper-right corner of the image (blurred out in the latter example), it was likely created on BreakYourOwnNews.com, a web site that allows users to generate their own fake news images.
The photograph of the hurricane itself was real, relative to 2007. It was taken by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and truly showed the massive size of Hurricane Irma as it churned in the Atlantic Ocean on the morning of 5 September 2017:
In this geocolor image captured by GOES-16 and released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Hurricane Irma, a potentially catastrophic category 5 hurricane, moves westward, Tuesday morning, Sept. 5, 2017, in the Atlantic Ocean toward the Leeward Islands. This image was captured as daylight moves into the area, right, with nighttime features on the left side of the image. Hurricane Irma grew into a dangerous Category 5 storm, the most powerful seen in the Atlantic in over a decade, and roared toward islands in the northeast Caribbean Tuesday on a path that could eventually take it to the United States. (NOAA via AP)
With sites such as BreakYourOwnNews.com, users can make wild claims look real. As an experiment, we used the web site for our own purposes:
Although there have been reports of tornadoes lifting (and later dropping) various animals, the scenario depicted in the Sharknado series, in which a tornado caused dozens of great white sharks to rain from the sky, was far-fetched.
Astors, Maggie. “No, Hurricane Irma Won’t Be a ‘Category 6’ Storm.”
The New York Times. 6 September 2017.
Kroll, David. “Is There Science Behind ‘Sharknado?'”
Forbes. 12 July 2013.