Video of Australia storm falsely shared as 'HAARP cloud over Syria after Turkey earthquake'

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A video of a massive cloud forming over a coastal city has been shared repeatedly in multiple social media posts alongside the false claim it shows a "strange HAARP cloud in Syria" after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake devastated large swaths of the country as well as neighbouring Turkey. The posts misleadingly refer to a former US military project called High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP), often cited by conspiracy theorists as the cause of various climate and weather anomalies. But the clip actually shows a storm cloud over Australia's Gold Coast and there is no evidence that HAARP was linked to the Turkey-Syria earthquake.

"Strange HAARP cloud over Syria after Turkey earthquake," reads the false Korean-language claim shared alongside the video here on Facebook on February 18, 2023.

The video appears to show a massive storm forming over a coastal city, as a siren rings out. English-language text in the video reads, "Incredible storm."

The post links to an identical one on Rumble, a North America-based video-sharing platform, which further claims HAARP "is a frequency weapon similar to 5G tech but much more powerful."

Screenshot of the false post shared on Facebook. Captured February 22, 2023.

The photos circulated after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked part of eastern Turkey and northern Syria on February 6, killing tens of thousands of people and felling thousands of buildings.

As of February 22, the death toll from the quake stands at nearly 46,000.

HAARP refers to a research programme run by the University of Alaska Fairbanks since 2015 that has been the subject of baseless conspiracy theories.

The programme -- which was originally run by the United States Air Force -- uses the world’s most powerful high-frequency (HF) transmitter to study the ionosphere and the physical processes at work in the very highest regions of our atmosphere.

Identical claims that falsely linked the video to Syria and the HAARP programme were shared on Facebook here and here, as well as here on Naver Band, a popular South Korean forum.

But the clip shows a storm above Australia's Gold Coast shared online since 2022, not clouds over Syria.

Australia storm

A reverse image search on Google found a corresponding video titled "Incredible Storm Front over City" on YouTube, posted by a user named "The Relaxed Guy" on November 28, 2022.

The video's description reads, "I was at the right place at the right time. I filmed this emerging storm front as it developed over the Gold Coast in Australia. Some nice storm videos coming to the channel soon, so be sure to subscribe and turn on the bell."

According to his description, the user's videos mostly feature nature and are generally filmed in Australia.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the video shared alongside the misleading claim on Facebook (left) and the original video posted on YouTube in November 2022 (right):

Screenshot comparison of the video shared alongside the misleading claim on Facebook (left) and the original video posted on YouTube in November 2022 (right)

Using Google Earth, AFP geolocated the precise location in which the video was filmed on Australia's Gold Coast, Australia. It shows matching features, including certain buildings, swimming pools, and vegetation.

AFP has highlighted similarities between the video (left) and Google Earth's 3D Imagery (right) in red below:

Screenshot comparison of the YouTube video from 2022 (L) and a 3D rendering of the corresponding location on Google Earth (R)

HAARP claim

HAARP programme manager Jessica Matthews dismissed the online claim linking the Turkey-Syria earthquake to HAARP.

“The recent earthquake and tragic loss of life in Turkey highlight the devastation that natural disasters can cause. The research equipment at the HAARP site cannot create or amplify natural disasters,” Matthews told AFP.

Conspiracy theories about HAARP, including claims about weather manipulation, have previously been debunked on the programme's FAQ page.

According to the site, the radio waves emitted by the HAARP transmitter are not absorbed by the part of the atmosphere that produces the weather.

"Since there is no interaction, there is no way to control the weather," the site reads.

AFP previously debunked a false claim that a disk-shaped cloud sighted over Turkey a month before the earthquake in January 2023 was generated by HAARP.