Fact Check: Contrails Lasting Longer Than A Minute Are NOT 'Chemtrails' -- Persistence Is Dependent On Atmospheric Conditions

Fact Check

  • by: Sarah Thompson
Fact Check: Contrails Lasting Longer Than A Minute Are NOT 'Chemtrails' -- Persistence Is Dependent On Atmospheric Conditions Humidity Basis

Can "unnatural chemtrails" be differentiated from an airplane's "normal condensation trails" because "contrails never last more than a minute" as asserted by a former pilot in a video? No, that's not true: The amount of time a plane's contrail is visible is dependent on the atmospheric conditions present where the plane is flying, the temperature and the humidity at that altitude. When the relative humidity is high, the ice crystals of the contrail remain visible for a longer period of time, but when the air is drier, the ice crystals can quickly revert to invisible water vapor. The term "chemtrails" is a misnomer applied to contrails by conspiracists.

A video clip shows public comments at a Shasta County Board Of Supervisors meeting (archived here) which took place on July 15, 2014 in Redding, California. Jeff Nelson, who identified himself as a former commercial airline pilot and flight instructor took the mic at 33:45 minutes in. The 2014 clip, shot from a different angle, surfaced in a post on Instagram (archived here) where it was published by geoengineering.is.evil on January 9, 2024. The post was captioned:

What more proof do you need? Soil and air test have proven that these trails are not natural, they are poison and it's literally killing us!!! WAKE THE F*** UP PEOPLE!!!


#geoengineering #climatemodification #weatherwarefare #chemtrails #chemtrailspraying #weathermanipulation


(Image source: Instagram screenshot taken on Mon Jan 15 21:05:01 2024 UTC)

The text overlay on the video reads:

Former Pilot and scientist talk about the trails being sprayed in our skies!!!

The video clip had been posted previously by geoengineering.is.evil on October 2, 2022, and the text captions in that earlier video, which are truncated in the above screenshot, read:


The scope of this fact check will focus only on Nelson's claim that contrails do not last longer than a minute, and does not extend to the comments made by another man in the second half of the Instagram clip. The key part of Nelson's statement is included in the clip, but a few words that are included below in brackets were cut from the Instagram clip. Nelson says:

The contrails, not the chemical but the contrails, occur because of cold air, minus 30. It takes a high altitude around 30,000 feet plus. There's carbon dioxide and water vapor in that exhaust, that turns to ice crystals. That's what you see, the white stream behind it. Those white crystals of ice warm up, dissolve, and the smoke goes away- and it never lasts more than a minute [usually it's in seconds, depending on outside air conditions].

What we're seeing now, and I first could not believe it and started looking at the skies. These are not normal, they're not natural, there's something going on. I don't know who it is or why they're doing it -- all I can testify is it's not natural and it's not normal. It's got to be some outside influence doing that. Thank you.

Much of Nelson's simplified explanation of contrail formation is fairly accurate. It is true contrails do not form at low altitudes or at warmer temperatures, although -40 degrees Celsius is the temperature cited by most sources. Ice crystals do not need to "warm up" so that "the smoke goes away." Although Nelson uses the word smoke, it is understood that he is referring colloquially to the white trail of ice crystals behind the plane and not literal smoke. Through sublimation, the ice crystals (as solids) making a visible contrail can return to the invisible gaseous state of water vapor without melting. A contrail does not need to warm up in order to disappear.

Nelson's assertion that normal contrails never last more than a few seconds, at most a minute, and any contrail lasting longer than that is evidence of something unnatural or abnormal which was caused by an outside influence is false.

There is an outside influence that is an important part of the contrail equation which is both natural and normal, and that is the relative humidity of the air where the plane is flying. This relative humidity is variable from day to day according to the weather conditions. It can change throughout the day, it can vary in patches, and it can vary from one altitude to another. This is why it is sometimes possible to see two planes flying overhead and only one is leaving a contrail -- they are not at the same altitude or relative humidity.

The Globe Program (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment) is an "international science and education program that focuses on promoting scientific literacy,"which is sponsored by four governmental agencies and managed by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The other agencies are The National Science Foundation (NSF), The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the U.S. Department of State (DoS). In a globe.gov article on the Science of Contrails three types of contrail are named and matched with images. A link is included to a PDF of technical diagrams showing the variables that play a role in contrail formation.

Contrails are all made of the same materials and are formed in the same way, but they exist for different lengths of time. Because of the differences in contrail "life-spans," contrails can be divided into three groups: short-lived, persistent (non-spreading) and persistent spreading. See the Contrail Formation Guide (PDF) for more information on how contrails form.

In September of 2000 the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) along with NASA, NOAA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) produced a six page PDF Factsheet (archived here) on aircraft contrails.

If the humidity is high (greater than that needed for ice condensation to occur), the contrail will be persistent. Newly formed ice particles will continue to grow in size by taking water from the surrounding atmosphere. The resulting line-shaped contrail extends for large distances behind an aircraft (See Figures 2 and 3). Persistent contrails can last for hours while growing to several kilometers in width and 200 to 400 meters in height. Contrails spread because of air turbulence created by the passage of aircraft, differences in wind speed along the flight track, and possibly through effects of solar heating.

Lead Stories has published several fact checks (here) on a variety of claims about contrails and the chemtrail conspiracy.

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  Sarah Thompson

Sarah Thompson lives with her family and pets on a small farm in Indiana. She founded a Facebook page and a blog called “Exploiting the Niche” in 2017 to help others learn about manipulative tactics and avoid scams on social media. Since then she has collaborated with journalists in the USA, Canada and Australia and since December 2019 she works as a Social Media Authenticity Analyst at Lead Stories.


Read more about or contact Sarah Thompson

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