It seems like every year the weather gets crazier than the last. You see reports about torrential flooding and other extreme weather on the news pretty much all of the time – some may argue, but it looks like climate change caused by human activity is indeed a real thing. Polar icebergs melting at increasingly alarming rates will cause sea levels to rise in the future. On the flip side of the coin, the fire season in the hot, dry regions of the west coast of North America lasts roughly 75 days longer than it did a decade ago. Yes, climate change seems imminent, but there are still some pretty rare natural meteorological occurrences to look out for.
1Non-Aqueous Rain: It's Raining Men, I Mean Fish, Hallelujah
Stories of raining animals or objects date back to the first century A.D. when Pliny The Elder first documented frogs falling from the sky. In 1794, French soldiers also witnessed a rain of toads. Even in the present day, Hondurans experience the Lluvia de Peces phenomenon.
What is Lluvia de Peces, you ask? In Yoro, Honduras the skies literally rain fish and it's been happening annually for more than a century.
One common explanation for animals falling from the sky can be attributed to waterspouts, but the nearest marine source for fish for the Lluvia de Peces phenominon is over 200 km (140 miles) away and waterspouts just don't travel that far. This event may also be connected to fresh water fish moving to subterranean water due to seasonal changes. Heavy rains possibly wash the fish up and when the water recedes, the fish are stranded on land.
Some believe that when Spanish priest Father José Manuel (Jesus de) Subirana saw how poor and hungry the locals of Yoro were, he prayed for the miracle of food to be bestowed upon the people. After praying for 3 days and 3 nights, the people were rewarded with this rain of fish.
With all of this raining fish it makes you think – could Sharknado become a reality?
2Fallstreak Hole: U.F.O. - O.F.R.!
Some people see some truly strange things and others see what they want to see. Take this recent story of people in Stockton, CA who claimed they saw a huge hole in the sky. These spectators took to social media and speculated that the hole was caused by everything from an alien spacecraft to an intergalactic wormhole. In actuality, the U.F.O. was a fallstreak hole, also known as a hole punch cloud.
Cirrocumulus or altocumulus clouds containing super-cooled water that can't freeze without a tiny particle to cling to cause fallstreak holes. Scientists believe that when airplanes fly through these clouds they start the process of ice forming and crystallizing. Air passing around an airplane's propellers or wings makes the air expand and cool rapidly and ice crystals form, then drop below a cloud long after a plane has passed through it.
Perhaps one of these fallstreak holes inspired Black Sabbath in their classic song, “Hole In the Sky”:
“I'm looking through a hole in the sky
I'm seeing nowhere through the eyes of a lie
I'm getting closer to the end of the line
I'm living easy where the sun don't shine”
3Firenado: When wildfires turn into whirling twisters
The fire whirl is a rare occurrence in which a fire forms a tornado-like vortex of flames. These vicious cyclones of flame are also known as firenados or fire devils and no wonder – these babies look like they come straight out of the deepest bowels of hell!
These hellish whirling dervishes of fire occur when trees, a hillside or flames force air to shift against competing air temperatures and speeds. While some fire whirls peter out pretty quickly, others can travel when the heat is able to stay afloat and surrounding gasses push it tighter onto itself.
Perhaps the deadliest example of a firenado happened in 1923 in Japan in the aftermath of a massive 7.9 earthquake. Survivors of the disaster gathered together in an open space, but a massive firenado occurred and swept through the space, killing thousands.
4Catatumbo Lightning: The largest and longest light show on Earth
You've heard the term, “the perfect storm,” right? Yes, a perfect storm, where a series of events happen simultaneously that drastically aggravates a situation. This lightning phenomenon is so rare that it only occurs in one place on Earth because of a perfect storm of location and natural gasses.
Catatumbo lightning occurs only over the mouth of the Catatumbo River in Venezuela where it empties into Lake Maracaibo. Warm and cold fronts meet creating the perfect condition for this lightning. Add nearby marshes emitting methane gas which in turn improve the electrical conductivity of the clouds and voila! You've got one badass atmospheric phenomenon.
Catatumbo lightning usually occurs 140 to 160 nights a year, but ceased for a few months in 2010 which caused many locals to worry. Much to their relief, the lightning has since returned stronger than ever.
5Fire Rainbow: An aerial kaleidoscope of color
Fire Rainbows are so cool and rare that maybe the Land of Oz really does lie somewhere over them!
Technically known as a circumhorizontal arc, conditions have to be very precise for these rainbows to occur. They usually occur during the summer months – the sun has to be at an elevation of 58° or greater with high altitude cirrus clouds and sunlight entering the ice crystals of the clouds at just the right angle.
These are some big clouds too, my friend! They are so large that some have mistaken the rainbow to be part of the sky rather than the cloud.
Also known as an ice halo, the circumhorizontal arc is actually neither fire nor a rainbow.
6Brinicle: The icy finger of death
Dangerous weather phenomena don't only pose a danger to us land dwellers, but also threatens some of our friends of the sea.
Take the cool looking and bizarre brinicle. The brinicle is caused by cold, sinking brine (water saturated with salt). This happens when heat flows from the warmer sea up to the cold air, forming new ice from the bottom. The ice is pushed to the brine channels and because this saline water is more dense and colder than the rest of the seawater surrounding it, it sinks and freezes areas of the warmer sea water it comes into contact with.
When a brinicle hits the seabed it leaves a deadly web of ice that freezes anything that it comes into contact with, including sea urchins and starfish.
7Green Flash: Blink and you'll miss it!
If you've ever seen a bit of green poking out from the sun during a sunrise or sunset it could be either of two things:
1) You're having an acid flashback
2) You are experiencing a natural phenomenon known as a green flash.
This phenomenon usually occurs during sunrise or sunset when more of the light reaches the observer without being scattered. The green of the flash is caused by light being bent and refracting in the atmosphere. The atmosphere acts as a prism, separating light into various colors. When the sun fully rises above the horizon, the different colors of the spectrum overlap, causing the spectrum to be invisible to the naked eye. It's called a flash because that's exactly what it is – the green only flashes for a few seconds at a time.
Now, if you did acid while experiencing this particular event, you might see a whole lot more than a green spot above the sun!
8Dirty thunderstorm: Tempest in a volcano
Let's get back to lightning simply because it's so damn cool!
Another truly fascinating and rare weather phenomenon is volcanic lightning, otherwise known as a dirty thunderstorm. Not only do you have the menacing appearance and danger of a volcano erupting, but add lightning to the mix and you've got one spine-chilling weather wonder!
Volcanic lightning occurs when lightning is produced in a volcanic plume. The process starts when particles separate, either after a collision or when a larger particle breaks in two. Some difference in the aerodynamics of these particles then causes the positively charged particles to separate from the negatively charged particles. Lightning occurs when this charge separation becomes too great for air to resist the flow of electricity. Volcanic eruptions also release large amounts of water, which can also help these thunderstorms along.
A bit of advice: If you see lightening coming from a volcanic eruption, get the hell out of there!
9Aurora Borealis: Nature's spectacular display of lights
We have to put the Aurora Borealis in here somewhere! This incredible occurrence of nature that happens above the magnetic poles in the north is also known as the Northern Lights. (The south has the same phenomenon, but is known as the Aurora Australis.)
What causes these auroral displays? Once again, it's all about collision. This incredible light show occurs when the gaseous particles of the earth's atmosphere collide with the charged particles from the sun that enter the earth's atmosphere. Typically seen closer to the poles and during the equinoxes of the year, these fantastic displays appear in many colors, although green and pink are the most common.
The Menominee Indians of Wisconsin believed the Northern Lights to be the location of the spirits of great hunters.
10Roll Clouds: Waves that tumble across the sky
Roll clouds are truly a sight to behold! Some have described these clouds as looking like toppled tornadoes. These types of arcus clouds are typically associated with thunderstorms.
Not to be confused with the similar shelf cloud, these rarities of nature occur when air temperatures invert and cause the warm air to be on top of the cool air. Wind then changes speed and direction and causes a rolling effect of these cylinder-type clouds.
Roll clouds need just the right amount of moisture to occur. The storm winds actually push the clouds into a tubular shape, which moves them ahead of the storm. They look like a giant rolling pin across the sky!