Freak weather phenomena never cease to fascinate – and sometimes to terrify. If you’re intrigued by the vagaries of the climate, this list is guaranteed to send your temperature soaring. From catatumbo lightning and moonbows to microbursts and quadruple rainbows, everything is covered in our not-to-be-missed list of 20 incredible weather events.
20. Asperitas cloud
This mind-bending apparition was snapped in the skies over New Zealand. As yet, science doesn’t have an explanation for this natural phenomenon, so for the moment you’ll just have to sit back and enjoy it. Meanwhile, you can impress your friends by telling them that, in 2017, asperitas was the first new formation of cloud to be added to the International Cloud Atlas since 1951.
19. Not enough anti-freeze?
The owner of this vehicle won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. It appears that some flood waters have reached about halfway up the car. Then there’s been a big freeze and the ice around the car has remained in place as it’s supported by the sides of the car port. Flooding and freezing have thus combined with hilarious results (or exasperating ones, if they’re your wheels).
18. Hurricane Sandy
These fish met their untimely demise thanks to the unfortunate combination of Hurricane Sandy and a chain-link fence. Sandy was the most severe storm of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season. It caused a mind-boggling $70 billion worth of damage and killed more than 230 people as it howled across eight countries. And it wasn’t great for these fish either.
Also known as a lunar rainbow, this peculiar phenomenon differs from a regular rainbow by being caused by the moon rather than the sun. But the way that a moonbow forms is similar to its cousin’s formation: it’s basically light refracting through droplets of water (except it’s moonlight rather than sunlight). You’re most likely to catch sight of a ghostly moonbow when the moon is full and low in the sky.
16. Catatumbo lightning
To witness the amazing display known as Catatumbo lightning you’ll need to take a trip to Venezuela as that’s the only place it occurs. And even there the event only happens at one particular location, where the Catatumbo River flows into Lake Maracaibo. The phenomenon is caused by storm clouds gathering at heights in excess of half a mile, which then interact with the surrounding mountains.
15. Dust storm
Unsurprisingly, you’re most likely to see a dust storm in desert and semi-desert environments. Their cause is straightforward enough: when a strong wind blows and there’s lots of dried-out sand and dirt on the surface of the ground, along comes a dust storm. Incidentally, we don’t just get dust storms on our planet – they also occur on Mars.
14. Fog bow
Fog bows are also known as white rainbows. But, as their name implies, they don’t appear when rain is around but instead materialize when it’s foggy. The phenomenon is caused by sunlight refracting on the minuscule drops of water that make up fog. And we mean minuscule: each droplet is as small as 0.002 of an inch.
13. Look behind you!
One of the things about the weather is its frequent unpredictability. A sunny day can be interrupted by a thunderstorm in the blink of an eye. And this driver could be forgiven for thinking this storm is preparing a nasty ambush. Probably best to speed up a bit.
12. Giant white line
If you’re wondering what on earth this enormous white line laid across the countryside is, here’s your answer – it’s hailstones. Despite the blue sky and sunshine, a storm has made a beeline across this landscape, making it look for all the world as if a giant has painted a white stripe across it.
11. No parking
If ever there was a reason not to park your car on ice, here it is. One of the properties of ice – water in its solid form – is that it can rapidly melt to become water in its liquid form. And things aren’t going to get any easier for the car owners if the ice freezes up again. We can only wonder what the drivers told their insurers.
10. Ice leaf
This gorgeous ice sculpture has clearly formed when the ice has frozen over one of the leaves of the plant below it. Presumably, rain must have left a film of water on the plant before temperatures rapidly dropped below zero thus freezing the water. Whether or not the plant survived is unknown.
9. Frozen statues
We wouldn’t blame you for thinking that a crack team of ice sculptors has been at work here. But, in fact, this artsy looking scene is entirely due to the efforts of Mother Nature. There’s clearly been a heavy downfall of rain followed by steeply dropping temperatures. Whether that motorcycle will ever fire up again is a moot question.
8. Upside-down rainbow
Were it not for the trees at the bottom of this shot, which was taken in Yorkshire, England, you’d swear this photo was upside down. But this upended rainbow is an actual thing. It’s called a circumzenithal arc and it happens when sunshine refracts through airborne ice crystals. Some people whimsically refer to it as a “smile in the sky.”
7. The white Sahara
If you thought the one place you’re not going to see snow is the Sahara desert, you’d be wrong. Although it’s vanishingly rare it does happen from time to time. Here’s one example from December 2016 when some of the white stuff fell at a place called Aïn Séfra in Algeria. Locals reckoned it was the first time they’d seen snow in 40 years.
6. A tsunami of fog
This decidedly ominous looking scene happened at Sea Girt, New Jersey, on the last day of May 2015. The sinister fog bank approaching from seaward and looming over the land is a low lying cloud. These are created, usually in late spring or early summer, when warm air hits the cooler waters of the Atlantic.
5. Shelf cloud
And here’s a picture of another completely weird cloud, taken this time in Sydney, Australia, in 2015. These impressive formations are called shelf clouds and can be formed by gusts of wind generated by thunderstorms. It’s quite common for the lower part of the cloud to have a tempestuous look to it, giving the whole an apocalyptic quality.
4. Massive snowballs
So who would go to the trouble of making all of these perfectly formed snowballs? No one, as it turns out. These snowballs appeared along 11 miles of the Gulf of Ob coast in Siberia in 2016, after ice particles, rolled around by the wind and tide, gradually grew in size and formed into balls. Locals said it was the first time the phenomenon had been witnessed in living memory.
3. Candy floss clouds
It’s 2012 and a ghostly cascade of fog pours over skyscrapers on Florida’s Panama City beachfront. To explain what’s going on, here’s Dr. Greg Forbes of the Weather Channel. “The relative humidity must have been very high just offshore, almost ready for fog to form anyway,” he told the Huffington Post, “because the clouds form so low down and then they really get thick, almost obscuring the high-rises.”
2. Rainbows: four for one
Now we’re in Long Island, New York, in 2015 and a commuter waiting on the platform at Glen Cove Station sees something pretty extraordinary in the sky. It’s a quadruple rainbow. Double rainbows aren’t exactly common but quadruple rainbows have got to be as rare as hen’s teeth. However, the clever folk at National Geographic rather ruined the moment by pointing out that actually it’s not a quadruple rainbow. It’s two double rainbows, apparently. Spoilsports.
1. Monster microburst
A microburst is an explosive discharge of downward rushing wind emanating from a thunderstorm. Sometimes accompanied by torrential rain, microbursts can be extremely damaging, generating wind speeds of up to 150 mph. This one happened in 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona. Incredibly, microbursts can be so violent as to take down a plane and have done so in the past.