Chemtrails vs. Contrails: an explanation that just makes sense

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — You may have seen them in the sky: streaks of white clouds crisscrossing the horizon on a sunny day.

There are thousands of planes heading north, south, east, and west, but it’s not the planes that get people talking. It’s their “trails.”

“When you look up in the sky and see a lot of contrails up there, where the jets are flying, that indicates there’s moisture in the atmosphere,” Jim Wheeler, President and CEO of the Global Super Tanker, said.

“We’re redistributing the moisture that’s already there,” pilot Marcos Valdez said.

They’re known as condensation trails, or contrails. However, for some people, they’re called something else.

FOX21 Chief Meteorologist Emeritus Terry Gerbstadt has years of experience dealing with this supposed controversy.

“I’d get a call,” Gerbstadt said. “‘No, they’re not contrails. They’re chemtrails.’ And we’d get into a long discussion.”

“There’s all kinds of theories out there and you read it on the Internet and a lot of people believe what they read on the Internet,” Gerbstadt said.

Ahh yes, the Internet. Just type in “chemtrails” and see what comes up. There are multiple theories about the government spraying chemicals on us to control the population or even to control the weather.

They are simply not true.

“Well, it’s just moisture in the upper levels of the atmosphere,” Gerbstadt said. “You get up to about 30-40,000 feet and you see a jet going over the top and there’s moisture coming out of the back of that engine.”

While some people think chemtrails are caused by planes dropping stuff for bad reasons, we decided to check with the people who operate the Colorado Springs-based Global Super Tanker, which drops stuff for good reasons.

“First of all, it’s a lack of basic understanding of what condensation does when its disturbed,” President and CEO Jim Wheeler said.

“There are all kinds of theories out there that are crazy,” he said.

The Super Tanker is a 747 that fights fires by dropping retardant or water to help suppress or control wildfires.

“The retardant base that is used is a fertilizer-based product. Interestingly enough, after a fire, you’ll see where the retardant lines were dropped, because they are going to come up with the greenest grass first.”

Marcos Valdez has been flying 747s for 18 years. We asked him what reaction the word “chemtrails” elicits. 

“Humor,” he said. “That would be the best answer.”

His explanation of contrails?

“When there’s moisture in the air, it gets compressed in our engines,” he said. “The engines compress the air and that moisture and we spit it out the back. It’s cold up at altitude and it freezes, and there’s your trail.”

As one of the pilots for the Super Tanker, what’s his take on the chemtrail conspiracy theory?

“I’d love for you to take a big picture of our cockpit,” he said. “You’ll find no switch for chemtrails.”

The science behind this is really the air moving through the exhaust of the engines.

You get the cold air at the higher levels of the atmosphere that drops the temperature below the dewpoint, and that’s when you have it mixing with moisture at the upper levels of the atmosphere to create the condensation trail.

“The lower the temperature and the higher the humidity, the more likely you are to see condensation trails,” Wheeler said.

We even found another recognizable face in the Springs to get his thoughts on “chem versus con.”

“When I say chem trails, what do you think?,” we asked meteorologist Matt Meister.

“I think if they were real, we’d be dead,” he said. “That’s what I was hearing 15 years ago. I’m not here. I should be dead.”

So where does it stand on the Meister Meter when he gets chemtrail emails?

“From a vitriol perspective, it’s a 10,” Meister said. “They’re usually very angry emails.”

So, hold your e-mails and phone calls, please. We’re all going to be just fine.

At least, that’s what Gerbstadt said.

“I’m hoping you handle it very well,” he said. “I hope it all ends peacefully and they’re not marching on the station.”

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