Footage shows 2019 storm in Romania, not US weather modification

A video circulating across platforms purports to show a June 2024 storm pelting cars in Arkansas with clumps of mud, prompting claims from conspiracist accounts about the US state being targeted by weather manipulation. But the clip is misrepresented; it was filmed in Zalau, Romania, as debris from heavy rains and hail hit the city in May 2019.

"Arkansas, US," says a June 19, 2024 post from "Concerned Citizen," an X account that AFP has previously fact-checked for spreading disinformation.

"Have you ever seen anything like this as what only can be described as massive mud hail rains down," the post says. "This area of America has been getting hammered by various weather modification programmes in recent weeks."

The post shows closely cropped footage of cars getting pelted by rain and what appears to be scraps of bark stripped from the trees surrounding them.

<span>Screenshot from X taken June 25, 2024</span>
Screenshot from X taken June 25, 2024

Similar posts ricocheted across platforms such as X, Instagram and TikTok, including in Spanish and Portuguese.

But the clip does not show a storm blasting the United States -- nor is it proof of weather modification, which climate skeptics have increasingly cited to deny the role of global warming in floods and other dangerous weather phenomena.

Reverse image searches surfaced the same video in social media posts -- and reports from Romanian news outlets such as Stirile Pro TV -- saying it showed hail pummeling Zalau and other Romanian localities on May 28, 2019 (archived here, here, here and here). The footage is frequently credited to Razvan Botareanu.

Botareanu uploaded the video that day to Furtuni Romania, a private Facebook group for fans of extreme weather events in the country (archived here). He said in its caption that he received the footage of Zalau from his brother.

<span>Screenshot from Facebook taken June 25, 2024</span>
Screenshot from Facebook taken June 25, 2024

Speaking to AFP via Facebook Messenger on June 25, 2024, Botareanu confirmed he is the author of the video and that it is outdated footage from Zalau.

"The clip is old," he said.

Commenters on Botareanu's original post speculated that the cars -- which are carrying Romanian-style license plates -- were hit by bark, leaves and branches from the trees above.

Asked about the video, a spokesperson for the National Weather Service's Southern Region Headquarters told AFP: "No such event has been reported by offices in Arkansas."

The most recent report of hail in Arkansas was on June 9 and included 1-inch hail, the spokesperson said in a June 25 statement.

Before that, farmers in the state's central region faced damaged crops after hail the size of baseballs poured down in May, according to local news reports.

A National Weather Service webpage describes types of frozen precipitation but makes no mention of "mud hail."

Social media users have previously misrepresented Botareanu's video as hail stones falling from the sky in France and Italy.

AFP has debunked other misinformation about climate here.