Mother nature can be mighty unpredictable – and terrifying. Weather is a constant in life, and no matter where you live across the globe there’s always the threat of a sky blue day turning extreme. There are also times when weather can cause the most beautiful and unusual of phenomenon. Let’s take a look at some of the most extreme and unusual weather phenomenon found on the planet.
Thunderstorms & Lightning
Thunderstorms occur all over the world, bringing strong winds, heavy rain, loud noises, and lightning. Sometimes these storms can cause tornadoes and flash flooding. Civilizations throughout history have been influenced by them – the Ancient Greeks believed they signified battles with the god Zeus.
These dangerous and deadly rotating storm systems are characterized by torrential rain and deadly high winds. Depending on the part of the world where they occur, they are called hurricanes, typhoons, or cyclones. The Saffir–Simpson scale classifies hurricanes into five categories based on sustained wind speed. Hurricane Katrina, one of the most devastating in recent memory, was a category 5.
Sometimes called a wildland fire, forest fire, vegetation fire, grass fire, peat fire, or bushfire, these devastating blazes occur wherever there is combustible vegetation. Human carelessness such as arson is major cause, but lightning, spontaneous combustion, and volcanic eruptions can also spark them. The earliest evidence of wildfires dates back 420 million years from plant fossils preserved as charcoal found in the Welsh Borders.
One of the most terrifying weather events, a tornado is a violently rotating column of air that touches the earth from a thunderstorm above. The Fujita scale rates tornadoes from F0 to F5. An F5 can rip trees out of the earth and homes from their foundations. Tornado alley is a term used in the United States for the Great Plains region, which is routinely subjected to intense tornadoes.
A halo is an atmospheric phenomena caused by light interacting with ice crystals. They are typically visible around the sun or moon. They come in many forms, but one of the most famous is the “sun dog,” which feature very bright, intense light to the right and/or left of the sun.
Belt of Venus
Visible shortly before sunrise or after sunset, the Belt of Venus is an atmospheric phenomenon that causes a pink glow just above the horizon. It is often accompanied by a blue grey band caused by the earth’s shadow. The phenomenon has nothing to do with the planet Venus, rather the name is a reference to the Roman goddess Venus.
These lens-shaped, stationary clouds hover at high altitudes and have frequently been mistaken for UFOs. They are typically formed when moist air travels over a mountain or other man-made structure and forms a crest of waves on the way down that sometimes look like a stack of pancakes.
They cause white-out conditions and can shut down life for days. A blizzard is a severe snowstorm lasting longer than three hours with wind gusts over 35 mph that blow snow, creating low visibility. The Great Blizzard of 1993, sometimes called The Storm of the Century, stretched from Canada all the way to Central America at it’s peak, impacting nearly 40% of the population of the United States.
In arid regions across the world, a strong gust of wind can bring with it a mile-high wall of dust. Dust storms are very common in the Sahara, where their frequency has increased 10-fold in the last half century. Dust storms don’t just carry sand or dirt across large areas – they also spread diseases across the globe, while the sooty atmosphere they create promotes diseases like asthma.
“Ice storm” doesn’t quite capture the fury of this weather phenomenon, but it goes by other names, like “silver thaw.” These occur when precipitation falls in the form of ice crystals. Though they can be quite tame, ice storms can also have devastating effects. They can down trees, snap power lines, and leave entire cities coated with a heavy layer of ice.
There are constant storms on the sun, which send solar wind into space. This solar wind makes contact with Earth, charging atoms in the atmospheres and causing them to light up in beautiful greens, blues, and reds . The Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) can be seen from Alaska, Canada, Iceland, and other northern countries. The Aurora Australis (Southern Lights) can be seen from Antarctica, Chile, New Zealand, and other southern countries.
Ever seen clouds that look like a sky full of enormous bubble wrap? This rare cloud formation is called mammatus clouds – cumulus pouches that hang beneath a cloud. While they’re fun to look at, these clouds are actually a harbinger of danger as they usually signal the arrival of an intense thunderstorm or even a tornado.
This magical arc of color is one of the most beautiful weather phenomenon that occurs. Rainbows appear when light enters raindrops – acting as tiny prisms – in the air. The light reflects and breaks into a spectrum of color, visible to human observers at a low angle. Sometimes, a double rainbow will occur, but in even more rare instances there are twin rainbows, full-circle rainbows, and supernumerary rainbows.
Fog might seem like the least “extreme” weather on this list – after all, it’s a weather phenomenon experienced in almost every region of the world and in every season. But it’s the many types of fog, that make it so interesting. Some of the most intense types are not actually fog at all, but fog-imitators caused by pollution. Pea soup fog is an especially dangerous type of smog – this thick, greenish layer of sulfur dioxide and soot can be lethal to the city-dwellers where it appears.