Rampaging tornadoes, snowstorms in Texas and hailstones almost a foot wide — it’s not just the stuff of sci-fi films. Before everyone had a cell phone camera to record freak environmental meltdowns on film, it was common to believe really outrageous stuff only happened in fiction or in the Bible, but that’s not exactly true.
Whether you blame these bizarre scenarios on angry gods, demonic spirits or the simple power of science, you can now use modern technology to watch Mother Nature shake things up with your own eyes. Check out some crazy weather phenomena that will blow your mind!
Somewhere Over the Tornado
Tornadoes can be fearsome and ferocious, while rainbows are the opposite, bringing hope and happiness. If there wasn’t photographic evidence, it would be pretty unbelievable to see two at the same time, wouldn’t it? In March 2017 in Frankfurt, these two extreme weather phenomena — with two very different connotations — occurred simultaneously.
As awe-inspiring as this sight is, the blend of disturbed light waves and wind direction make this combination quite common. So, next time a tornado approaches, maybe you will also catch a glimpse of a hopeful rainbow to alleviate some of the fear. Hope the pot of gold doesn’t get sucked up!
The Year the Pyramids Froze Over
Egypt conjures up images of relentless sun beating down on vast deserts, but it was a different story in 2013. On Friday, December 13 — no, we didn’t make that up — Cairo got hit with some snow for the first time in 112 years, according to reports.
The ancient Egyptians would have taken it as a sign from the gods, but a winter storm named Alexa caused by an anticyclone inside a big northward meander was to blame. The Sinai mountains and famous monuments, including the pyramids, were lightly coated by the wintry downfall. Nearby Turkey, Syria and Lebanon were also affected.
Huge Hail in Hawaii
Thunderstorms are a pretty rare occurrence in Hawaii, but not as rare as hailstones the size of softballs! Nonetheless, giant chunks of ice fell from the sky during a supercell thunderstorm on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, in March 2012.
The previous state record for hailstones was a mere 1 inch, but the hailstones on this day had average diameters of 2-3 inches, with at least one particularly large, spiky specimen measuring an intimidating 4.25 inches long. That’s half the size of the largest ever recorded hailstone, which was found in South Dakota.
Tornadoes Strike Twice
On May 8, 2003, an F4 tornado in Oklahoma rampaged across Moore and Oklahoma City. The next evening, three more tornadoes tore through the Oklahoma City metro area, including a massive F3, which tracked from south of Edmond to Luther.
The tornadoes made history as the first recorded incident of multiple F3 or stronger tornadoes hitting the Oklahoma City metro area on consecutive days. Of course, records are always made to be broken. On May 19-20, 2013, two F3+ tornadoes tracked the path of the 2013 tornadoes from the Edmond area to Luther as well as from Moore to Norman.
Red Red Rain
When it comes to fantastical weather, nothing sounds more epic than blood-colored rain. Understandably, villagers from Zamora, Spain, were spooked when they saw rusty red rain fall from the skies in the fall of 2014. Interestingly, the incident wasn’t the first of its kind. In 2001, residents of Kerala in India were startled by “blood rain,” which stained streets and clothing, and a lake in Texas turned eerie blood-red in 2011.
So, what did all these places have in common? When scientists took samples, they found a particular kind of algae, Haematococcus pluvialis, which produces a red pigment when stressed. Mystery solved.
South Florida Snowballs
Snow in the Sunshine State? Surely not! In January 1977, the unbelievable happened. While Florida, particularly Tampa and Miami, is a popular warm weather escape for those who live in cold, northern states, visitors that particular year should have packed scarves instead of sunshades!
It remains a considerable freak occurrence, considering that no snow had ever been reported in southeastern Florida before that date, and none has been reported since. It may not sound like much, but Plant City, Florida, located east of Tampa, was covered in an unprecedented 2 inches of snow.
Record Breaking Rain
Next time you get annoyed at persistent rain, spare a thought for the residents of La Reunion Island in January 1980. The little island about 500 miles east of Madagascar is used to heavy rainstorms, but Tropical Cyclone Hyacinthe really delivered a battering.
The devastating storm loitered over the island for a little more than two weeks, resulting in rainfall of almost 240 inches, or about 20 feet. To put it into perspective, that’s around four times the average yearly rainfall in Miami. The resulting flooding from Hyacinthe’s deadly visit killed 25 residents and left 7,000 homeless.
Beware the Bugnado
As probably the closest modern-day version of a plague of locusts, swirls of bugs can actually be caught in cyclones. Although “‘bugnados” may not be dangerous — depending on the bugs — they are certainly freaky to see. Simply put, if a cyclone sweeps through a dry area with a large insect population, those insects get caught up in the vortex, and the wind tunnel is filled with bugs.
It’s usually smaller insects that get caught up in the whirl of a cyclone, but in March 2014, a swarm of red locusts in Portugal formed a creepy bugnado. You know that looked like some Biblical stuff.
It’s Raining Gloop
When rain was forecast in Oakville, Washington, in 1994, it wasn’t unusual news. However, what the locals were not expecting on that August morning was a coating of jelly-like blobs covering a 20-square-mile area in the wake of the rain. Even weirder, the blob rain fell six more times over a period of three weeks.
As well as feeling scared and confused, Oakville residents started to become ill with nausea and dizziness. The mystery of the blob rain was never solved, but a popular theory is that a nearby naval bombing exercise at sea accidentally blitzed a school of jellyfish and sent the gelatinous debris into the atmosphere’s clouds. Ew.
Ball Lightning: Very Very Frightening
There have been numerous accounts of ball lightning strikes dating back to the early 17th Century — sometimes resulting in gruesome deaths. Earlier studies suggested the phenomenon was merely an illusion caused by the storm’s magnetic fields, but the balls have now been captured on camera several times.
Also known as globe lightening, it usually occurs during thunderstorms and presents as a fast floating sphere that can be either white blue, orange or yellow, sometimes accompanied by a scary hissing noise and an acrid smell. It usually disappears within a few seconds, leaving witnesses more than a little shaken.
Spectacular Sea Vortex
Waterspouts are fairly common sights, but they still inspire awe in witnesses. Although they look like water tornados emanating from the sea, waterspouts aren’t made of seawater but actually consist of cloud water spray. Occurring most commonly in warm waters, they happen when the clouds gather and water condenses, leading to a swirling mass of water droplets.
Although they look cool, waterspouts can be unpredictable, with wind velocities inside reaching as high as 150 miles an hour. The largest waterspouts can scale up to 100 meters in diameter and occasionally move over land, resulting in a full-scale tornado.
Twin Tornado Trouble
Warnings of incoming tornadoes easily strike fear into residents, but folks in Pilger, Nebraska, weren’t expecting double the trouble in June 2014. The two Pilger tornadoes formed part of a particularly violent event culminating in 76 tornadoes, four of which were consecutive F4 tornadoes. They tore across the Great Plains killing two people, injuring many others and causing mass devastation.
Twin tornadoes are rare, occurring perhaps every 10-15 years due to supercell thunderstorms. Supercells are large, vertical columns of rotating air that lead to tornadoes in about a third of cases, particularly in significantly big storms.
The Magical Moonbow
Usually, we associate rainbows with emerging sunshine, but these multicolored arcs can also be caused by the light of the moon. This beautiful phenomenon is quite rare because it requires a specific combination of a bright moon that is lighting up rain in a dark sky at less than 42 degrees above the horizon.
The most spectacular moonbows — also called lunar rainbows — are captured near waterfalls, such as the one at Cumberland Falls in southern Kentucky (pictured). To the human eye, they often appear white. However, when snapped with long-exposure photography, you can see the full range of beautiful colors.
The Cinema-Worthy Storm Surge
Remember the movie The Day After Tomorrow, which featured apocalyptic-style storms? It wouldn’t be surprising if the writers took inspiration from the epic storms of March 1993, when a storm surge caused rampaging weather conditions throughout the country.
Hurricane-like conditions battered Florida’s Gulf Coast and tore through the South, creating 6-foot snowdrifts in Alabama and shocking 14-foot drifts in Virginia. All major East Coast airports were closed, 3 million people were left without power and the extreme weather caused an estimated $5.5 billion in damages. Sadly, it also resulted in the deaths of 270 people across 13 states.
Mighty Mud Storms
When a huge hurricane comes ashore and moves over dry land, it’s frightening stuff. A hurricane’s rapidly rotating storm system usually occurs far out at sea, but if it moves inland, moist soil can take the place of warm ocean water, creating what’s called the “brown ocean effect.”
This is what happened in Texas in August 2007, when a mud-laden Tropical Storm Erin rampaged inland, beating Oklahoma with gusts of more than 80 mph. One theory about this newly emerging storm category ties it to climate change, causing dry areas to get drier and wet areas to get wetter.
The Plains: Peak Heat to Plummet
On February 11, 2017, temperatures reached a record high of 100 degrees Fahrenheit in Magnum, Oklahoma, beating a record that had stood for almost 100 years (February 24, 1918). A fire alert was issued due to low humidity and windy conditions, but to the astonishment of locals and scientists alike, the temperature suddenly plunged 60 degrees. By Valentine’s Day, snow was falling on the Texas Panhandle and Oklahoma.
This wasn’t the first time the Plains experienced unusual weather. In 1911, Oklahoma City experienced a record high of 83 degrees Fahrenheit and a record low of 17 degrees on a single day in November.
Flying into the Eye
While most people want to run away from hurricanes, Hurricane Hunters from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) travel right into the eye of the storm to film the conditions. Their specialist planes — Kermit and Miss Piggy — are equipped with impressive four-engine turboprops that make them specifically capable of surviving and studying big storms.
This image was captured on September 10, 2018, by the pilot of Kermit (plane pictured inset), who flew through the category four Hurricane Florence. The plane recorded that the huge hurricane, which was over the Carolinas, had wind speeds of around 130 mph.
Once again, a supercell storm is responsible for the next crazy weather phenomenon. On April 11, 2012, a thunderstorm caused torrential rain and hail near Dumas, Texas. The sheer volume swamped a shallow gully and turned into an ice mass that piled up into huge drifts of up to 10 feet high.
People couldn’t travel, and the road was closed for 12 hours. Named “hail glaciers,” the frozen water formed walls — not for the first time. In August 2004, there were 16-foot hail glaciers in Clayton, and a road by Dalhart, Texas, was closed for almost a month due to 3-foot drifts.
White Christmas in Texas
Texans may not think there’s much point in dreaming of a white Christmas, but in 2004 the dream came true in the farthest southern parts of the state. Arctic air made its way south and resulted in a covering of snow. It was the first time there was measurable snowfall since 1895 in Brownsville, Texas.
It was also the heaviest 24-hour snow on record in nearby Victoria, at 12.5 inches, and the storm dropped a record 4.4 inches in Corpus Christi. Further inland, stretching from Duval County northeast into Victoria and Calhoun Counties, they experienced heavier amounts of snow from 6 to 12 inches.
The Night of the Twisters
Remember the frightening sight of two large tornadoes at once? Imagine how scary it must be to experience an astounding seven tornadoes in less than three hours. In and around Grand Island, Nebraska, on June 1980, one of those infamous supercell thunderstorms struck again.
The strongest tornado in the storm was rated an F4, and it meandered destructively from east to west and then to the south side of Grand Island. Its comrades in the area took similarly erratic paths over the top of the already damaged areas. Five people lost their lives, and the damage was estimated at around $300 million.
Spare a Thought for Socotra
When it comes to unfortunate weather, the little island of Socotra in the Arabian Sea gets it all. In one particularly eventful season in 2015, Cyclone Chapala battered the island in early November. It made the record books as the farthest south category four cyclone to occur in the Arabian Sea.
The cyclone made a huge hurricane-strength landfall on the Gulf of Aden coast of Yemen, which led to flooding in the city of Al Mukalla and the areas surrounding it. A week later, the island was smashed by the category three Cyclone Megh.
The Great American Freeze
Snow in northern parts of the U.S. isn’t an unusual forecast, but in the winter of 2014-2015, all previous records were smashed in Boston and surrounding New England cities. In about 30 days, almost 95 inches of snow — just under 8 feet — fell in Boston, far exceeding the previous record of around 5 feet, set in 1978.
Several records were broken during this period of below-average temperatures. An early trace of snow was recorded in Arkansas, and parts of Oklahoma had scatterings as well. Even Florida felt the chill that winter, with a low of -2 degrees Celsius recorded in Pensacola.
A Record-Breaking Ball
If the news of the Hawaii hailstorm didn’t strike you as remarkable, then maybe you’ll be astonished by the size of the hailstones that fell on Les Scott’s lawn during a supercell thunderstorm in July 2010 in Vivian, South Dakota. Amazed, Scott stored some of the colossal ice blocks in his freezer.
He contacted NOAA’s Climate Extremes Committee so they could check them out. Despite having thawed a little due to a power outage, the largest stone still measured in at 8 inches and weighed almost 2 pounds. The huge size was due to strong updraft speeds of 160-180 mph, which helped mold and solidify the hailstones.
Dangerous Dust Storms
When thunderstorms form, winds move around from all directions. When a storm collapses, the wind directions reverse, resulting in a downburst of cold air. This can lead to an astonishing and terrifying sight: a dust storm or haboob.
Silt, clay dust and other sediments are swirled up into a wall that precedes the storm cloud, sometimes reaching 62 miles wide and several miles high. The winds in a haboob often travel between 22-62 mph and can pick up speed unexpectedly. They are common in Africa, the Middle East and Australia and can also be seen in Arizona, New Mexico and eastern California.
Nature’s Decorative Discs
Perhaps one of the more beautiful weather phenomena on this list, ice circles — also known as ice pans or ice crepes — are naturally occurring discs of ice that rotate on the surface of the water. They appear on the outer bends of rivers when the accelerating water creates what’s called a “rotational shear.”
The shear breaks a chunk of the ice off and twists it around, where it grinds against surrounding ice to become smoothed into a circular shape. They vary in size, and the largest reported ice circle was 91 meters in Westbrook, Maine, in January 2019.
A Deadly Downpour
The Atacama Desert in Chile is one of the driest places in the world, with the main city of Antofagasta receiving only 0.07 inches of rain a year, at best. So, imagine the chaos that ensued when the city experienced almost an inch of rain in 24 hours in March 2015.
Because the arid environment couldn’t absorb that much rainfall at once, it simply ran off the land in torrents of water — with catastrophic consequences. The Copiapo River burst its banks, claiming at least nine lives. Chile’s Deputy Interior Minister called the incident “the worst rain disaster to fall on the north in 80 years.”
Fire whirls look like something fresh out of hell and occur when wildfires or firestorms generate their own wind. The burning updraft results in tornado-like whirls that can be between 10-50 meters tall.
Additionally, the heat inside can reach up to 1,090 degrees Celsius. The really scary ones have been reported to reach heights of more than half a mile, with wind speeds of 120 mph and the ability to burn for 20 minutes or more. One of the most recent fire whirls in the U.S. was recorded in Sacramento, California, in August 2018. It had wind speeds exceeding 143 mph.
The Sun and then Some
The phenomenon of “‘mock suns” was recorded as early as Ancient Greek and Roman times, with Aristotle noting that the “two mock suns rose with the sun and followed it all through the day until sunset.”
Also known as sun dogs or parhelions, this atmospheric optical phenomenon is essentially bright spots beside the sun that create a 22-degree halo. It’s most common to see them when the sun is near the horizon. They occur during any season and in any part of the world, as long as there are ice crystals in the atmosphere to refract the sunlight.
A Burst of Storm
Although they might sound harmless enough, microbursts are intense weather phenomena that can cause significant damage, particularly to aircraft. They occur during thunderstorms or rain showers in three distinct stages: the downburst, the outburst and the cushion.
If an aircraft is landing when one occurs, the wind shear of the microburst’s gust can cause severe turbulence. Fortunately, the phenomenon is well known in the industry, and flight crews are well versed in identifying and recovering from these events. Microbursts have also been known to cause damage by knocking down trees, buildings and powerlines.
Terrifying Icy Tsunamis
Tsunamis are well known for their sheer destructiveness, so residents in Manitoba, Canada, were justifiably terrified by an icy tsunami approaching in May 2013. Locals described the 9-foot-tall ice wave as pouring over the shore of Lake Dauphin at a rapid pace, where it went on to engulf lakefront homes, damaging 27 in total but thankfully leaving residents unharmed.
In February 2019, furious gusts on Lake Erie were so strong that blocks of ice surged over the shore to create an ice tsunami that was 30 feet high! Much of it was caught on camera, and the footage looks like something straight out of a thriller film.