Anatomy of a Fake Hail Picture: Update Mystery Solved!

Update is at the bottom.

Social media has made covering weather much easier. Both for getting information out and receiving information in. One of the negatives of social media and weather is the proliferation of fake or old photos being passed off as real current pictures. Jesse Ferrell at Accuweather has done some extensive blog posts on hoax weather pictures and video, which can be found here.

I want to focus on the latest hoax hail picture which surfaced Sunday but really took off today via Social Media. The below picture was posted on Facebook by a Ashley on the KWCH 12 Wichita, Kansas TV stations Facebook page

576431_409463795733067_202491759763606_1518665_71305455_n (1)


Lets examine the meteorological problems with this first. Hail this large doesn’t look like this. It actually looks more like these below. Which BTW are all close to the U.S. record size hail. Top left is the confirmed record.

south dakota hail

The reason large hail looks more spiky and not uniform is that it’s usually made up of lots of smaller hail pieces. Even large hail will run into smaller pieces on the way down and they will stick to the larger piece making for jagged edges.

This is the largest confirmed piece of hail in U.S. history below which occurred in Vivian, SD on July 23rd, 2010. It was 8” in diameter and weighed 2lbs and had a total circumference of 18.62”.(Credit USA Today and NOAA)

So while it’s not impossible for this hail stone to be very smooth it’s highly unlikely given all the large hail stones we have seen in the past. So looking at the Sunday Kansas hail picture makes me very suspicious. It would be amazing that this piece didn’t strike pavement a car, tree or structure either. Which would have left not only damage to what it hit but likely to the hail stone itself. Which means it would have needed to fall on grass or dirt. Which would have left a crater and also dirt or debris on the stone. This picture right is of the crater left by hail near the record-breaking hail stone in South Dakota. Which is where you would have found the Kansas stone, half buried.

Back to the picture in question


The other problem with this report is this is the only one I can find. I do know watching the live stream that night that hail was reported in downtown Wichita. Yet there was nothing even close to this size. While one stone like this is possible you would still expected to see baseball size hail reports around the same area and time. Especially considering this is a major city Wichita, KS where lots of people and lots of stuff would be getting hit by this hail. Below is a map of all the hail, tornado and wind reports from Wichita that night. Notice the lack of any hail reports near the location of the picture.

4-16-2012 12-11-51 PM

Last but not least you would have had to have an updraft wind speed in excess of 150 mph to form such a stone. The record-breaking hail stone in Vivian, SD had an updraft speed estimated to be 160-180 mph.

Other Questions:

I’d love to believe people but something just seems fishy here. I have tried to get more information from Ashley but haven’t heard back yet. I do wonder why it took 24 hrs+ for her to post this picture? I wonder why she didn’t even post it to her own FB page? I wonder why there aren’t more pictures from this night or other hail stones? Why none from outside or damage caused?

Granted not all people know how significant a hail stone this size would be but you’d expect more pictures and information to be posted along with the image. Then there’s this…..

It’s not like this wasn’t tried before. Last year during a Oklahoma outbreak of tornadoes a similar picture was floating around social media. It was clearly a fake and looked like a zip lock bag full of water frozen. You could even see the seam of the bag imprinted on the ice. It too was passed off as large hail from a tornado and wasn’t posted until 24-36 hrs after the storms. It takes a while to freeze water in a bag. Smile with tongue out

hail - or water balloon

I’ll be the first to apologize if I’m wrong, but I’m about 90% sure the picture posted Sunday in Kansas is a fake. You never know sometimes Ashley swears it’s real and says she has small hands. She also said it was only 4.5” diameter which means it’s slightly larger than softball size hail. For comparison, I took a softball 4” in diameter and placed it in my hand. My hand measures 8” from the tip of my middle finger to the base of my palm. So could her hand be half the size of my hand? Sure but still seems too big IMO. I’ll update if I get more information. Photo1

What do you think and why do people sometimes post fake or hoax weather pictures?


Got some information from Ashley who really did just find it like this and I wonder if it might be real. Still would be very rare for one lone stone like this but here’s the information with an additional photo.

After spending about an hour in our dorms tornado shelter, we all ran outside to see the damage, and sitting on the sidewalk outside of the door was this. I picked it up, showing my roommate what I had found. At that time it was melting in my hands and I quickly put it in the freezer in our dorm room.

2012-04-15 00.53.31

This one looks much more real, notice there are some concave impression on the top. This would be where other hailstones might have been attached or impacted it on the way down. Part of the problem is these pictures were all taken after it was in their dorm freezer for hours.

I’m also having trouble finding evidence in the radar data of hail this large. While it is possible that the RFD or rear flank downdraft blew this hail well to the west of the path of the supercell. It does appear the largest hail would have been east of this location. This might be a very odd singular stone or something else. Still researching.

Radar at the time….


Update #2…

After trading e-mails with Ashley she seems very worried no one believes her. She seems to question where it came from as well but clearly she found something outside. While it could be a classmate playing a joke on her or could it be real but not a hail stone? Maybe it was real but a megacryometeor instead. Just a theory could it be a coincidence that this fell around the same time of the storm. The location is close to the airport. Maybe???

4-16-2012 5-25-49 PM

On a side note, the negatively directed towards Ashley needs to stop. While I question the origin of the piece of ice I don’t question her motives. I think this could be a very rare stone formed in an odd way or something else. I’m going to try to figure it out with her help.

Update #3 (4/19/12)

I’ve been on contact with the NWS office in Wichita and they agree that this is not hail. They have been busy with tornado damage surveys and are not able to examine this ice first hand. The only thing they could do is slice it open to see if there are rings which would indicate hail. Other than that they don’t see much use in examining it.

They did bring up a theory that I myself had, which is that this might be a chuck of ice from a cooler, freezer or some other structure that was hit by the tornado then ejected from the storm to this location. This is a very good possibility which would explain why it was found by itself with no other hail in the area. Which means it might be a real piece of ice just not a hail stone.

Update #4 4/19/12 Mystery Solved!

Thanks to the hard work & question asking by Ashley she figured out who made this ball of ice and placed it on the sidewalk as a joke. She in no way was part of the joke and took WAY too much negative attention about it.

A fellow student bragged about making the ice ball from ice in the training room on campus. Here’s the FB post. Thank You Ashley and please forgive me for any negatively aimed your way. You were just an innocent victim of the hoax.

Ball of Ice

  • CSIweather, nice work brad

  • Interesting read! Great job using images to help illustrate your points.

  • I honestly think it’s a fake.

  • I live in Wichita, and I heard nothing about any hail….only the tornado…

    • wxbrad

      Lisa, that is one reason I’m skeptical. This occurred in a density populated area which means if there was hail like this is would have affected many people. Not saying it couldn’t happen but would be very odd to have just one stone like this. I have a little side theory that it might haven fallen from a plane. This is in the flight path for the airport.

      • I go to Friends University and the news said “softball sized hail”

  • I live in the area shown and we had no such hail that size during Saturday nights storm, only pea size for about 2 minutes.

    • wxbrad

      Thanks Babette that’s what I’m hearing from lots of people. Either this is a odd one hail stone kind of thing or a hoax.

  • Could it have been a piece out of someone’s freezer that someone who’s home got struck bad, part of debris that rained down as a result? Or…maybe someone had defrosted their dorm fridge outside before the storm and isn’t aware or owning up to the fact that its their ice chunk.

    • wxbrad

      That is an interesting idea.

  • Kevin Mathis

    I think she protests too much. If I had found it and posted it and you didn’t believe me I would not of cared. Believe me don’t believe who cares I know what I found.

  • I find this whole thing to be very stupid. There has been all these tornadoes and all you can find time to do is talk about hail some girl found and thought was cool…seriously get a life

    • wxbrad

      It’s important to learn how these form and where they come from, It’s called science, I’m sorry it’s not interesting to you but when 6″ diameter ice falls from the sky I’d like to know how it happened. That’s why I became a meteorologist. It’s nothing personal just the scientific process.

      • Interesting has nothing to do with it. Its when you go and call someone I know a liar, that’s when I get a problem. the comment wasn’t directed at you by the way i’m simply saying to call someone a liar when all this is going on is stupid.

        • wxbrad

          I agree no one should call her a liar, I never have I just questioned that this isn’t hail. At least like none I have ever seen before and I laid out my case without name calling.

  • Yea..i live right there where this was “found”. We didnt even get any hail. Fake.

  • Ask her to bring it to the station or better yet see if possible to get it to the NWS Office via a ice cooler/chest and let it be analyzed. Pretty easy to get to the bottom of this.

  • This is going around on facebook as you said..I just saw a photo of it and people are posting your link to prove its a fake…they aren’t scrolling down and reading where you contacted her and are trying to figure this out. 🙁 Maybe that part needs to be moved to the top of the article? My son has filled up a balloon before with water and frozen it…looked like a giant Kiss! lol But we didn’t post a photo saying it was anything but what it really was. At any rate while I had my doubts at first about it being real also…after reading all your article it made me remember about a freak thunderstorm that moved through our town, Hutchinson, many years ago. It dropped five or six huge hail stones out of the sky though there was no other hail at all. I don’t think it even rained. I heard this thing hit the front yard! I went out found it.It seemed like it was fairly well rounded too and not spiky like the above pictures. I think the Hutchinson news did an article on it. I couldn’t tell you what year it was but I am pretty sure it was before personal computers were invented or at least not common. So in remembering that and experiencing it first hand its kind of hard for me to doubt her story now. There were so many storms cells that night…this could have happened.

    • wxbrad

      It would be a very rare stone to be all by itself but agree anything is possible. It could be another thing besides hail too.

  • Ashley_smom

    Ashley is my daughter. I am a veteran journalist with more than 25 years of experience. Ashley was brought up respecting the news business and understanding the the destructiveness of hoaxes and “fake news.” I wish people knew her. She is not the type of person to lie, nor fake anything. She’s very upset over this and is a little afraid for her safety. I beg for a meteorologist to retrieve the hail from her and have it analyzed and publicly announce their mistake.

    • wxbrad

      I’m trying to get the guys over at NWS Wichita to come by and take a look they can figure out where it came from. The best way might be to cut it in half to see if it has the distinctive rings of a hail stone. It could be a few other things as well, megacryometeor or some ice formed around a piece of debris blown into the top of the thunderstorm. Thanks for the comment.

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  • good job following through on this story to the end. shame on anyone who harassed the poor girl and shame on the people who did the hoax and didn’t fess up earlier when it became news and not a prank.

  • I have personally picked up 4.5″ stones that looked like this. But not anywhere this large. But if the girl and her may so it is real i believe them and have dispatched 50 claims reps to their neighbor hood tonight. Just kidding. I love it when kids take an interest in the weather and forecasting…

  • Ashley was fooled but I thought it was fake also, but who’s to say it was good of her to post what she thought was an interesting story. Kudos Ashley and good luck with your career!

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