Florida waterspout footage misrepresented as Hurricane Idalia

Social media users are claiming a video of a gust of wind and water swirling ashore shows Hurricane Idalia making landfall in northwestern Florida's Big Bend region in August 2023. This is false; the footage depicts a waterspout that sprung up months earlier and more than 100 miles away in Clearwater Beach.

"BREAKING: Hurricane Idalia has started," says an August 29, 2023 post sharing the clip on X, formerly known as Twitter.

<span>Screenshot from X, formerly known as Twitter, taken September 1, 2023</span>
Screenshot from X, formerly known as Twitter, taken September 1, 2023

The post comes from an account called "CBKNEWS," which has previously promoted the QAnon conspiracy theory and misinformation about other natural disasters and events -- including an earthquake that rattled the state of Alaska in July.

Similar posts claiming the video shows Idalia spread across X and other platforms, such as Facebook and Reddit.

Idalia struck Big Bend as a Category 3 hurricane on August 30, flooding homes, toppling trees and downing power lines before weakening to a Category 1 and eventually a tropical storm as it drenched Georgia and South Carolina.

But the clip shared online predates the storm by more than two months. It depicts a waterspout, which the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says is "a whirling column of air and water mist" (archived here).

Storyful, a service that verifies and licenses social media content, reported the footage shows a June 16, 2023 waterspout that spun ashore and whipped up chairs and umbrellas on Clearwater Beach (archived here).

The organization credited the recording to Danielle Tarjoman, who filmed and posted it to Facebook (archived here).

Other US media, including USA Today and The Weather Channel, broadcasted the same footage.

The Clearwater Police Department shared a similar video on Facebook, saying the waterspout sent two people to the hospital with minor injuries caused by flying debris.

AFP independently confirmed the location of the clip using Google Earth.

Features on the pier in the background of the footage -- known as Pier 60 -- match those depicted in satellite imagery. An online webcam and photos on the attraction's Facebook page also show the pier from a similar angle (archived here and here).

As Idalia reached Florida, Clearwater Beach closed temporarily, according to the Clearwater Police Department (archived here). The law enforcement agency posted on its Facebook page images of rough surf under Pier 60, flooding on nearby streets and damage to a lifeguard tower (archived here, here and here).

AFP has debunked other misinformation about Idalia here and here.