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The Real Story Behind the Incredible Storm Photo That Just Won't Die

Social media and news sites have been abuzz over an amazing image supposedly tropical storm Isaac. The picture was actually taken by an amateur in Brunei but that hasn't stopped people from using to to illustrate all kinds of weird things over the years.

Posted on August 28, 2012, at 10:03 a.m. ET

Over the weekend, something almost as cyclical as storms themselves began spreading across social media — an old, dramatic image of a green-ish cloud hovering above water. Numerous people attributed the picture to Isaac but, as quickly as the picture spread, even making a brief appearance on Britain's Daily Mail, people began debunking it. This image seems to pop up every time there's a big storm — but where did it come from?

Thanks to Tin Eye, a photo-search site, we can see that the picture has illustrated a great many things besides Isaac.

1. A Dream

network54.com

This storm was used to illustrate a post about a guy's desert island dream. Scroll to the end for Adriana Lima shots.

2. Spiritual Wordplay

tomcottar.org

In 2008, Tom Cottar used the image for a blog post on spirituality and anagrams — "Did you ever realize that Britney Spears is an anagram for Presbyterian? Or that Pepsi Cola is an anagram for Episcopal?"

3. Climate Change Denial

redstateeclectic.typepad.com

A post from 2010 outlined one right-winger's belief that global warming is hokum.

4. Latvian Weather Roundup

5. Blackberry Device

maxbeta.com

In Chinese, no less.

6. Scissor Sister Song

7. Baltic Storm

8. Moving from Wisconsin to Michigan

9. Twitter Update

And the original...

10. Brunei Storm

richard-seaman.com

As suspected by eagle-eyed colleague John Herrman, the original photo was apparently taken by a photographer named Richard Seaman, who posted a whole bunch of photos from a trip to Brunei. Reached by email, he confirmed: "Yes, it's my photo."

Seaman issues stern take-down warnings for uncredited and uncompensated use of his work but sadly, it seems that the picture was just too good — and too divorced from its source — for the internet not to use over and over again.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.