The great destruction caused by Hurricane Florence in North Carolina is a reminder of how disruptive weather events can be. Weather events aren’t always destructive and deadly natural disasters – sometimes they’re just plain weird. Whether its snowfall in the Sahara Desert, fish raining down from the sky or fire rainbows burning up the horizon people have witnessed a lot of strange weather phenomenons. Some of these weird events were taken very seriously and even considered signs from God, but scientists have largely replaced those beliefs with more down to Earth explanations. Even if they aren’t supernatural they certainly are weird weather events.
10. Sahara Snowfall
The Sahara Desert, located in North Africa, is the largest hot desert and the third largest desert in the world. At roughly 3.6 million square miles the Sahara is about the size of the United States and China. About every 15,000 years the Sahara alternates between a parched desert and a slightly more green grassland. The desert is currently in the midst of one of its drier periods. Because of weather conditions in the region the dry climate is very stable and rainfall is almost unheard of, but there have been some notable exceptions. In January, 2017 people in the region were shocked to discover snow blanketing the ground for the first time 40 years. During this most recent storm some areas saw decent levels of accumulation with almost 3 feet reported in some places. The unexpected snowfall brought towns to a standstill but many of the local children, who had never seen snow before, played in the snow, making snowmen and throwing snowballs. In a region where rain is a big deal actual snowfall was certainly a weird weather event to remember.
9. Not So Aussome Heat Wave
There are a lot of things awesome about Australia, but its periodic heat waves are not one of them. Over the years the continent down under has experienced some truly weird weather events, but Aussies tend to take them in stride. Having said that, Australians refer to the summer 0f 2012-13 as the Angry Summer. Over a weird 90 day period Australia broke 123 weather records including the warmest day ever recorded on the continent. One particularly weird weather event was a stretch of 7 days that averaged 102 degrees Fahrenheit. In the midst of this heat wave Australia also experienced some record rainfall and flooding. Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology had to modify its weather forecasting charts to reflect the unusual temperatures experienced during the heat wave. The color purple was added to the charts to represent temperatures between 125-130 degrees Fahrenheit. As much as 70% of the continent was impacted by the weird weather because a large mass of hot air lingered over the middle of the country. Australian weather forecasters took some heat from the international community for not linking the weird weather event to global warming.
8. End Of Summer
In Europe and North America 1816 is known as the year without a Summer. Although Spring appeared to be normal temperatures started to fall as the calendar turned to the Summer months. In many places persistently cloudy skies contributed to the cool weather. This weird weather event lasted for months and caused crop failures and serious food shortages across Europe and the United States. Some literary historians argue that the sustained bad weather had a role in inspiring Mary Shelley’s famous horror classic, Frankenstein. Meteorological science was not very far along at the time so experts and lay persons alike struggled to find an explanation. It wasn’t until about a century after the cold wave ended that experts were able to explain it. A volcanic eruption on Mount Tambora in April, 1815 was revealed to be the cause of the year without a Summer. The eruption on a remote island in the Indian Ocean expelled a tremendous amount of volcanic ash that was blown over the northern hemisphere. The unseasonably cold weather in New England may have pushed thousands of East Coast farmers to take a risk and migrate westward.
7. Twister Outbreak
The tornado outbreak of 2011 recorded the largest total number of tornadoes in a 24 hour period. However, the 1974 Super Outbreak holds the record for highest number of large tornadoes in a 24 hour period with 30 tornadoes in the F4/F5 range. Between April 3 and April 4 138 tornadoes were recorded in 13 states and Canada. The storms were wide ranging with reports coming in all the way from New York to Kentucky with a path of destruction that stretched an incredible 2,600 miles. Experts believe that at one point as many as 15 tornadoes were rampaging at the same time. The unusual amount of storm activity is believed to have been created by a collision of 2 clashing weather systems. On April 1 a power low pressure system appeared over the North American interior plains. Meanwhile, a mass of extremely moist air moved into the Mississippi and Ohio Valley region. Large temperature differences between the two weather fronts foreshadowed a violent collision, but forecasters did not expect the Super Outbreak that caused such a weird weather event.
6. It’s Raining Fish
Throughout recorded history there have been reports of all different kinds of creatures raining from the sky including fish, frogs, birds and spiders. As far back as the first century AD the Roman thinker Pliny the Elder wrote about fish and frogs raining down. They are rare occurrences, but they seem to have occurred all around the world at various times. Meteorologists believe this weird weather events are caused by fish and and other animals being swept up by tornado waterspouts and carried inland before being dropped onto dry land. As recently as 2015 there was a reported case of millions of newly hatched spiders being carried several miles by strong spring breezes. The spiders’ silk can blanket whole areas and is referred to as gossamer or “Angel Hair” because of their delicate, wispy appearance. A small farming community in Honduras reports that the strange phenomenon happens every year. Most often the animals caught up in these weird weather events are found dead. However, sometimes the animals live through the experience which suggests to scientists that they were not carried very far before being dropped back to Earth.
5. Gas Lightning?
Catatumbo Lightning is such as common occurrence near Lake Maracaibo that local villagers get uneasy when it doesn’t happen. This weird weather event has been reported for centuries in Venezuela at the mouth of the Catatumbo River. This weather event is also known as the “Beacon of Maracaibo” and the “Everlasting Storm.” In this area the night sky regularly lights up for up to 9 hours at a time with an amazing average of 28 lightning strikes every minute. As many as 260 storms hit the area every year. The storms are so regular than mariners would use the lightning as a navigational aid. Scientists don’t agree on the reason behind the frequent storms, but several theories have been suggested. One is that the nearby methane gas fields make the area susceptible to increased electrical activity. Alternatively, concentrations of uranium are thought by some to cause the effect. Some experts believe it is simply the specific topography in the area where the river and the lake meet. Whatever the reason, this area of Venezuela is famous for its weird and beautiful weather event.
Thundarcano sounds like a low budget movie on the SyFy channel, but it is actually a weird weather event. This strange phenomenon is also referred to as a “dirty thunderstorm” and “volcanic lightning.” Our first record of a thundercano comes from the Roman Pliny the younger in 79 AD in his observations of the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Scientists believe that the large amounts of rock and ash that are ejected from an erupting volcano smash violently into each other creating static electricity. This means that the lightning is generated in the volcanic plume not in storm clouds as is usually the case. Studies have shown that this weird weather event is more common in the winter months due to the higher water content of volcanic plumes during those months. Experts estimate that lightning strikes occur in approximately 27-35% of volcanic eruptions. This phenomenon has been observed all around the world and volcanologists continue to study its causes and effects. For example, volcanic spherules or small glass spheres are often left behind when the volcanic lightning strikes ash or sand and melting it. The quick cooling glass is formed into globular shapes that are evidence of the weird weather event even if no one observed it.
3. Stay Puft
Mammatus or Mammatocumulus are Latin for “mammary clouds.” These unusual clouds are a little reminiscent of that rampaging, fluffy giant from the 1984 movie Ghostbusters, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. According to the Weather Channel Mammatus clouds are defined as “round, protrubing-looking structures that are found on the underside of a larger, parent cloud. They can occur with cirrus clouds, stratocumulus clouds, and cumulonimbus clouds.” The unique shape of the clouds is believed to form when ice crystals are suspended on the underside of a cloud. The ice crystals change to water vapor and the heavy concentration of water droplets suspended in the clouds cause the structure of the cloud to sag which results in the distinctive drawn out puffy shape. These clouds are often associated with severe weather systems, but do not actually cause severe weather on their own. Weather watchers are warned to be wary of Mammatus clouds because they often appear with thunder clouds and even tornado systems. Pilots are also trained to watch for these types of clouds because they can cause serious problems for air travel.
2. Flame Thrower
A firenado might even more like a science fiction movie on the SyFy channel than thundercano, but it is also a weird, but very real weather event. They are often referred to as “fire whirls” and “fire devils,” but whatever you call them they are an example of nature’s dramatic sights. This phenomenon usually starts with cyclonic wind action initiated by the intense heat of a forest fire. The effect is increased by hot rising currents of air that can form whirling eddies. If the eddies contract into a vortex then a firenado is unleashed that will suck up any available combustible gases and debris. This weird weather event can reach temperatures of 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Despite their similarity to conventional tornadoes they are not classified as such because they do not extend up to the clouds – they are driven by local weather conditions on the ground. Firenados can make an already dangerous forest fire much worse by quickly spreading burning debris over a large area in a short time. Some of these events have been strong enough to upturn cars and structures as was reported in the case of the 2018 Carr Fire near Redding, California.
1. Over The Rainbow
Rainbows are beautiful weather events usually associated with improving conditions. In popular culture they are often seen as harbingers of hope and even prosperity if you can find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. There is a particular kind of rainbow, however, that has nothing to do with the conventional ones we are used t seeing after a gentle spring rain. This weird weather event is known as a fire rainbow. Experts don’t like this name because they point out that they really aren’t a rainbow at all and of course they have nothing to do with fire. Scientists prefer the name circumhorizontal arc or lower symmetric 46 degree plate arc. With these beauties in the running you can see why “fire rainbow” stuck. A fire rainbow is actually a kind of ice halo caused by the refraction of light in disk shaped ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere. Because of the effects of cloud cover observers don’t often see the entire halo, but only isolated parts of the larger event. The association with fire started around 2006 when some observers began describing how the phenomenon looks when it forms in fragmentary cirrus clouds. So what if they have more to do with ice than with fire and isn’t a rainbow at all – fire rainbows are a weird weather event worth seeing.