How many people believe in chemtrails?

How many people are interested in chemtrails? Not very many I suspect. But how to measure them? One way is to see how popular they are on the internet. You could measure how many web pages mention “chemtrails”, but that could give a distorted picture, as the people who believe in chemtrails might tend to be much more likely to post their beliefs on the internet. Lots of people knit, for example, but only a tiny fraction of them make knitting web sites.

We could count blog posts, but that has similar problems, as people who believe in conspiracy theories seem quite keen on spreading those theories, and so are more likely to blog about them

The best way that occurred to me was to measure search terms. Simply see how many people were googling for “chemtrails” vs. other words. In this Googlified world, if people are interested in something then they google it.

Here’s my raw data:

Google Google Blogs Google Images Video News Scholar Pages/Posts Groutability 2006
“Global Warming” 67500000 733828 996000 18420 32584 102000 91.98 80
Ufo 36700000 317795 3335000 163722 929 24000 115.48 80
Knitting 20600000 601088 668000 7035 1715 143000 34.27 50
Archery 11900000 95539 296000 3614 1453 12500 124.56 12
Parkour 4510000 35404 83100 39931 49 39 127.39 8
Fread 2600000 3224 8280 32 10 3580 806.45 1.6
Grouting 1600000 6873 17800 193 58 36600 232.79 1
Bboy 1210000 14443 25700 77250 10 49 83.78 3
Chemtrail(s) 791000 4828 9180 2123 5 38 163.84 1
“fox hunting” 707000 7923 15900 106 64 2380 89.23 1.2
“Killer Bees” 434000 7090 10400 195 197 568 61.21 0.8
Morgellons 236000 3756 2970 143 4 26 62.83 1
Vexillology 112000 1037 1610 0 4 34 108 0
Reborning 47000 397 1070 0 0 0 118.39 0

The columns are fairly self explanatory. They are the number of results returned by google for web, blogs, images, videos, news and scholar. The pages/posts column is the ratio of total web pages to blog posts. The “groutability” column is the ratio search volume for that word to the search volume of “grouting”. I chose grouting as it seemed like a thing people would be searching for at a fairly constant volume, but not too much.

I chose search terms that had a similar result to chemtrails. I also added some outliers, that were very popular, or very unpopular, mostly activities practiced only by a few (like reborning). I included “morgellons”, as it seems like the most similar thing I could find with a distinct name.

You can look at the numbers and draw your own conclusions. Chemtrails has more results than “killer bees”, but less than “bboy” ( a type of athletic break-dancing). It has vastly less than knitting and archery. But a lot more than “reborning” (making realistic baby dolls).

But how many people are interested in chemtrails? Well, there are about 30,000,000 knitters in the country, and 600,000 blog results. So given the 4828 blogs results for chemtrails, that would indicate 241,000 people have some interest in chemtrails. But, like I said, it’s not easy to accurately extrapolate. If you could extrapolate from blogs, you could say there are three times as many chemtrailers as there are vexillologists (flag enthusiasts).

Or you could say: a lot more people are interested in Parkour than are interested in chemtrails.

[Update] Chemtrails on Usenet (archived on Google Groups), were only mentioned in 1999.  Here are the year-to-year search results for the word “chemtrails”.  There are NO results prior to 1999

1999 – 1070
2000 – 2050
2001 – 2810
2002 – 2250
2003 – 2060
2004 – 2100 
2005 – 1570
2006 – 2450
2007 – 2230

Contrail Confusion is Nothing New

Some people think that persistent contrails (high altitude aircraft vapor trails) are unusual, and are evidence of some secret government plot to modify the weather, or spread some population controlling drug or toxin. This is based on a misunderstanding of how contrails form, persist and spread. It is also not a new misunderstanding.

Back in the 50’s in America, contrails were a fairly rare sight in many parts of the country. Air travel was a fraction of what it is now, commercial jet travel did not start until 1958, and military operations were generally limited to particular areas. So it was not surprising that when someone noticed a contrail for the first time, they might think it to be unusual.

This account from 1951 reads almost exactly like the misunderstanding of current contrails:

Galveston, Texas, Sunday, October 28, 1951, in The Galveston Daily News:

Mystery Veils Vapor Wreath in Gaveston’s Sunny SkiesIt wasn’t a sky-written soft-drink ad and the weatherman couldn’t offer an explanation either for the fat white streaks of vapor hanging motionless in Galveston skies around noon Saturday.
But it seems fairly certain that a six-engined B-36 left the heavy white trail in its wake as it circled over the city.
Neither municipal airport nor civil aeronautics authority official had a flight plan on the bomber. Both outfits however, believed that the jet-powered B-36 was on a training mission from Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth.
An Air Force spokesman at Carswell Base refused to comment on either the bomber or its “vapor trail” when contacted late Saturday by The News.
Mystery of the massive vapor streaks was their long steady persistence in breeze-stirred skies rather than their expulsion from the jet-powered plane. Airport officials commented that a vapor trail usually fades away swiftly, as in sky-writing.
They also said that planes may leave vapor trails when flying at high altitudes. But it was unlikely, they added, that the air would remain still enough to keep the vapor from fading swiftly.
Another odd thing – onlookers said the bomber engines rather than the jet exhausts were pushing out the vapor clouds.
The only thing certain about the vapor mystery seems to be that the B-36 was flying at altitudes between 10,000 and 25,000 feet when it circled Galverston.

There are several components of the misunderstanding. Winds at altitude differ significantly from winds on the ground. Sky-writing happens at a much lower altitude and is totally different. The B-36 was the largest American bomber EVER, 50% larger than the B-52, and could easily cruise at 40,000 feet. So estimates of its height over Galverston could easily be underestimated, if based on experience with more typical aircraft. The B-36 also did not use its jet engines at cruising altitude, only for takeoff and dash attacks.

Here’s a photo of B-36 contrails at 37,000 feet, from the Operation Teapot nuclear tests on 6th April 1955, in Nevada:

All the trails are from the same B-36 jet overflying the test site (it was an aerial test).

And here is an account of a B-36 leaving persistent contrails at 20,000 feet.

Another account from a year earlier (1950), where the vapor trails (contrails) are mistaken for some kind of UFO. Typical of the flying saucer craze of the time. This from the Waterloo Courier, April 16, 1950:

Here’s another from the San Mateo Times, Jan 12, 1950:

And another from the Kingsport Times, Tennessee, Feb 11, 1954 (click on the image to zoom in):

Hazy Memories of Blue Skies

Some people believe that persistent contrails are actually evidence of a secret government spraying program called “chemtrails”, which was begun in the 1990s, for some purpose such as weather control, population control or more exotic purposes.

A common claim made by those believers is that it is only in recent years that chemtrails have persisted, and back when they were young (usually implying sometime before the 90’s), they remembered “blue skies”, which they don’t see any more.

I live (in 2007) in Los Angeles. The sky is generally blue here. In fact it’s blue about 300 days of the year. It’s often hazy in the morning. But I’d say the sky is blue, and if asked to recall what the color of the sky was, I think I’d say blue, especially if I were recalling a day at the beach or some such thing.

Were the skies different before 1980? Personal memory is not a good yardstick, so perhaps the photographic record. Now, until recently most of the photos people put online were from digital cameras, and hence quite recent. But now the older folks are starting to scan in their old photos, so we get things like this album:
This is a batch of photos from the 1960’s and earlier. While there is not much that looks like a contrail in any of the photos, there are a LOT of photos that show the kind of hazy sky that chemtrailers believe did not exist when they were young. In fact, nearly all the “blue sky” shots show some form of haze or cirrus clouds. The only time a sky approachs the “deep blue” of chemtrailers childhood imagination is when the camera is pointed nearly straight up, such as in the photo of the South Dakota capitol. Even there, you get the haze.

So why no persistent contrails? Well, it’s not just no persistent contrails in the photos, it’s no contrails at all. In fact, there are no planes in the sky!

Here are some more albums of old photos

Back to the claims of the chemtrailers. Are the skys different now? Sure, there is more air traffic, hence more contrails. But is there evidence of this? Look on picasaweb at people’s vacation photos. You see blue skies, hazy skies, cloudy skies. You really don’t see many contrails.

Look for photos of places that people consider to be hotbeds of chemtrail activity. Any place you are familiar with, say San Diego. Look for photos of San Diego. How many have contrails in them? Almost none.

What does this mean? It means confirmation bias, it means selective memory. Most of the time the sky is hazy. Most of the time it does not have persistent contrails in it.

Sometimes, of course, they do. We can be selective with the past as well as the present. We don’t remember them because they are rare, but they are there:

Applegate Lake, 1981, persistent contrail above the horizon.

1970s – Two parallel contrails, with a third being formed

1969, morning contrails that will spread and cover the sky:

[UPDATE] People have been scanning and uploading more family albums over the past three years.  For many more (and better) old contrail photos, see:

[UPDATE] Here’s an interesting thread on ATS.

Which asked this question:

– My request is this; —– Post if you remember seeing these lines like we do now (gridded up sky’s with lines eventually turning a nice sunny day into something of a hazy/cloudy sky)

– OR – —– post if you remember not seeing anything like the lines and grids we see today.

Here’s the relevant results:

I’m 52 and I remember seeing them all the time when I was a kid in the ’60’s. I remember because I asked my dad, who was an engineer, to explain to me what caused them.

Yeah, I gotcha, many times for hours. Maybe most of the day, I don’t know, I never spent that much time looking at em.

I’m not epic old, but I do remember some contrails lasting for hours, arching over the sky and you could follow it right to the horizon.

The Glynco Naval Air Station was working in full force when I was born in 1947.
I am also in between Savannah and Jacksonville that are both homes to military air stations.
Yes I remember the contrails growing up and enjoyed seeing the jets in the sky.
We had many sightings a day due to being so close to the ocean,

I used to sky watch all the time with my friends when we were little kids… we all remember contrails in the sky and them lasting for a few minutes, perhaps up to an hour, but not the whole day, not EVER.

im not much older than you op im 25 and remember seeing them as a kid in the early 90s. i would watch as a plane approched a contrail and expected them to crash when it hit them.

I’m 51 & live in the South Pacific.
Down here there was only 1 overhead air route when I was a kid – between 2 cities 200 miles north & 200 miles south (and it’s still the same there now). I remember seeing long contrails along that route before I started working – so in the early 70’s and late 60’s – sometimes the one from the flight in 1 direction would still be there when the a/c went back in the opposite direction an hour later.
I remember them spreading out a little – but not over the “whole sky”

I’m in my 40s and grew up in SW PA. I used to love looking into the summer sky and seeing long CONTRAILs. I would follow them across the sky to see if the plane was still in the air. This isn’t a new phenomenon, they’ve been around for as long as I can remember!
This would be in the 70s. Yes, the skies around Pittsburgh weren’t THAT bad. You have to remember that the Steel mills were starting to shut down and the air quality started to improve.

I have been looking at blue skies for over 60 years. I can remember looking at a certain amount of contrails all my life. The sky was blue and I mean blue and sunny on a summers day. 15 years ago I started working what I call vampire hours. I slept alot of the days away and up about all night. I didn’t get to see much of the sky. This past year I have found myself unemployeed like so many others. I would get up in the morning to a nice spring or summer day which didn’t last past 10 am. I kept wondering what had changed I knew something had. Some days I will see contrails going in all directions within an hour the sky will be like a sheer white veil and never see the blue and sunny sky again. … I really miss my nice mornings and sunny skies.

I’ve been around for a while, now, and here in the inter-mountain west and the northern high plains I see no difference in the behavior of contrails. There are certainly MORE of them than in the 60’s and 70’s but they act the same as far as I can tell. And you can see a l-o-n-g way from a mountain top!

I’m 50, from Indiana US. I remember contrails just as they are today from my childhood. I had an interest in the planes over my head because my father commuted by plane for most of my childhood. There is always the wonder if Dad is in that plane over head. There are absolutely more planes now.

I was in the USAF from 1990 to 1996. I remember having a guy come into our unit that had a BS in aeronautical engineering, but he was enlisted. I was amazed that he didn’t apply for OCS since he would be able to. Anyway, me being a guy who didn’t have a BS I thought he would be a wealth of knowledge for the many questions I had. (there was no Google back then) I asked him why some contrails lasted a long time and why some went away quickly. He didn’t know. Now either he didn’t pay attention in class, or they didn’t teach him about that, but it doesn’t matter. I clearly remember being interested enough to ask this question in the early 90’s. Being 43 now, I have a hard time remembering what I had for breakfast, but that one memory seems to validate that persistent contrails have been around for a bit.

I’m only 37, but I do have a pilot’s license, and I have stared at the sky since I was old enough to roll over!
There are more lines, because we have more air traffic. Much, much, much more air traffic.
The lines are more persistent because the airliners are flying higher and faster than ever before. Plus, with more lines, the lines tend to drift and combine and kind of form a high hazy layer.

used to lie on my back and watch them fly over in the late 70’s early 80’s, the contrails would last or not as often as they do here now

I am 48 and I also remember watching airplanes with their contrails in the air but not in a way that I could play virtual chess with them.

I’m an old fart, I saw JFK’s funeral procession on b&w TV as a boy. I was very much a sky watcher in my youth but I do not recall if there was always mist behind planes. I know I’ve seen trails behind planes for a very long time, nothing new.

As a kid in the 70’s and 80’s I remember watching the contrails form behind aircraft high up in the sky. I mean so high you couldn’t always see the aircraft at the front making it. But I don’t remember them lasting all day or spreading out the way they do now. They seem to form lower these days too.

1st time i notified was around the age of 7, in 1984-85.
They lasted long enough.

I’m in my mid forties and don’t remember seeing long lasting contrails in the skies when I was at school.
I don’t remember it snowing before 1979 either.

No I don’t remember so many lines in the sky, before I ever had the internet, quite a few years ago now, I started noticing them, and no one influenced me.

There is no damn way chemtrails have been around since planes started flying. i used to see planes once in awhile with a normal contrail when I was a kid. Still see normal ones today. The ones where the ice melts about a mile behind the plane. I’d say 91 was the year we started seeing this crap that stretches across the sky intersecting all across the sky. Lingers allday long. No it was not always so. Any one who says it was. Is nothing more than wrong

Mid 30’s here and I remember bluer skies, then again when your younger everything seems brighter and more colorful.
Winters were alot colder and summers seemed cooler.

Seems like well over half the people there actually DO remember persistent contrails, just like today.

One of the guys who did not actually thinks they started in 1991. One of them thinks they started in 2010.

Pretty much all that demonstrates is the variability of memory. But if the majority in the conspiracy theory community remember them, then that seems pretty good evidence that they have always been there. Especially as it tallies with recorded history, and science.

Persisting and Spreading Contrails

Do contrails sometimes persist and spread out?

Yes, see the Encyclopædia Britannica article on vapour trails (contrails):

Contrail, streamer of cloud sometimes observed behind an airplane flying in clear, cold, humid air. It forms upon condensation of the water vapour produced by the combustion of fuel in the airplane engines. When the ambient relative humidity is high, the resulting ice-crystal plume may last for several hours. The trail may be distorted by the winds, and sometimes it spreads outwards to form a layer of cirrus cloud.
vapour trail. (2007). In Encyclopædia Britannica.Retrieved May 4, 2007,from Encyclopædia Britannica Online:

(The above quote is from the current EB. However, a Google books search dates the inclusion on the EB back to 1983)

Also see “A Field Guide to the Atmosphere“, by Schaefer and Day, 1981:

Sometimes [contrails] are ephemeral and dissipate as quickly as they form; other times they persist and grow wide enough to cover a substantial portion of the sky with a sheet of cirrostratus (Page 137)

Are spreading contrails a relatively new thing?

No, it has been exactly the same for decades, the only change has been the size of jet engines (producing bigger contrails), engine technology  (burning fuel more efficiently in high bypass jet engines creates cooler exhaust which is more likely to condense before it mixes with the surrounding air) and the amount of air traffic (producing more contrails). Spreading contrails have been mentioned consistently through the history of aviation, including in the popular press. Like Sports Illustrated , Nov 6th 1989:

Now, late in the afternoon, the hatchery explored and the fishing over for the day, Crooks points to the sky. Blue all day, it has now turned hazy. “Contrails,” he says. “The haze is caused by aircraft contrails that have gotten spread out till they cover the sky. This is a major air route from the East Coast to the West.”

For scientific discussion, see, for example, all these articles on contrails. In particular the one from 1970 titled “Airborne Observations of Contrail Effects on the Thermal Radiation Budget

The spreading of jet contrails into extensive cirrus sheets is a familiar sight. Often, when persistent contrails exist from 25,000 to 40,000 ft, several long contrails increase in number and gradually merge into an almost solid interlaced sheet.
Contrail development and spreading begins in the morning hours with the start of heavy jet traffic and may extend from horizon to horizon as the air traffic peaks. Fig. 1 is a typical example of midmorning contrails that occured on 17 December 1969 northwest of Boulder. By midafternoon, sky conditions had developed into those shown in Fig. 2 an almost solid contrail sheet reported to average 500 m in depth.

Airborne Observations of Contrail Effects on the Thermal Radiation Budget
Peter M. Kuhn
Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Volume 27, Issue 6 (September 1970) pp. 937–942

(Click on any of the images in this article for a larger view)

Then a few years later, in 1975, we have the article : Multiple Contrail Streamers Observed by Radar, which again has photos (taken in 1971) of spreading and persisting contrails, as well as extensive discussion of these observations.

Multiple Contrail Streamers Observed by Radar.
Konrad TG, Howard JC (1974)
Journal of Applied Meteorology:
Vol. 13, No. 5 pp. 563–572

Here’s a description from 1970, from a local newspaper, the Arcadia Tribune, April 29, 1970:

Aircraft contrails begin to streak the normally bright Arizona sky at dawn. Through the day, as air traffic peaks, these contrails gradually merge into and almost solid interlaced sheet of cirrus cloud – an artificial cirrus cloud that is frequently as much as 500 meters deep.

One of the earliest reference to contrails covering the sky is from the Mansfield News Journal, August 11, 1957, Page 29:

“Within the past few years, the weather bureau has begun to report the trails as actual cloud layers when there are sufficient trails to cover a portion of the sky.”

Here’s a description from 1955:,1486793

An extremely persistent con trail might stay in the sky all day

But even earlier, and with a perfect description of what “chemtrail” theorist claim cannot happen comes this account from 1944:

The News, Frederick, MD, March 7, 1944

Contrails frequently have a tendency to cause a complete overcast and cause rain. In Idaho I have seen contrails formed in a perfectly clear sky and four hours later a complete overcast resulted

Below is the entire top of the page of that newspaper, in case you want to look it up.

And from the book “Flight To Arras” by Antoine de Saint Exupery, written in 1942 about a military mission in 1940:

The German on the ground knows us by the pearly white scarf which every plane flying at high altitude trails behind like a bridal veil. The disturbance created by our meteoric flight crystallizes the watery vapor in the atmosphere. We unwind behind us a cirrus of icicles. If the atmospheric conditions are favorable to the formation of clouds, our wake will thicken bit by bit and become an evening cloud over the countryside.

Another from 1958

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