Most of us are familiar with the tremendous power behind a thunderstorm and its dazzling lightning displays. And most of us have taken in the beauty of freshly fallen snow or a rainbow after a storm. But few can say that they have seen fish rain from the sky or caught a glimpse of St. Elmo’s Fires flashing across a ship.
The weather on our planet can range from ordinary spring showers to swirling tornados of fire, and everything in between. Some of these phenomena are incredibly dangerous, but all of them offer a unique glimpse into the natural world.
Mammatus couds; Dust storm; Volcano lightning; St. Elmo’s Fires; Fire tornado; Raining fish; Mirage
Lauren Leising is a freelance writer based in Athens, Georgia. She was probably dreaming of a trip to Mount Bromo while writing this.
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Mammatus clouds are some of the most beautiful cloud formations on earth and look a lot like bubbles of soft fabric. These clouds hang below a thundercloud's anvil and are formed when ice crystals change from solid to water vapor and chill the surrounding air which then sinks and creates the pouch-looking formations.
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Red Dust Storms
Dust storms are an incredibly common occurrence, especially in places that are prone to high winds and have lots of loose dust or sand nearby. But when that dust is a deep rust color and blankets everything in a red haze, it can look a lot more like something out of an apocalyptic movie. When soil contains high levels of iron, as is the case in some deserts and arid regions, it appears red. This dust is then kicked up by wind and carried hundreds of miles, leaving residue in its path.
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What could be more beautiful yet terrifying than watching a volcano erupt? Seeing that eruption suddenly spark with lighting is definitely a frightening sight. Researchers began studying this phenomenon in the 1960s and concluded that the volcanos were ejecting large amounts of positively-charged material that then met with opposite electrical charges in the atmosphere, thus producing the spectacular light display.
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St. Elmo's Fires
Often seen during storms as balls of light flashing around ship's masts or streaming across windshields of planes, St. Elmo's Fires have long been a curiosity. These tiny "fires" are really static electric discharges that occur during thunderstorms and move across and around objects in their path. Though they aren't dangerous themselves and make for beautiful displays, they typically occur before larger lighting strikes and accompany intense storms.
NOAA Photo Library
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Though it is not as bizarre as the infamous "shark-nado," fire tornados are very real and very dangerous. These intense displays of fire and wind occur when active wildfires create their own wind current that whips fire up into a tornado form. Intense heat can create vertical currents that stretch the fire up into a thin funnel shape.
Oregon Department of Forestry
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H2O is not the only thing that falls from the sky. Reports of raining fish date back to 200 BCE in Greece and come from around the world. One of the most famous incidents occurred near Thomasville, Alabama on June 28, 1957 when thousands of small fish, frogs and crayfish fell from the sky during a rainstorm. Scientists link the phenomena to tornadoes and waterspouts which likely pick up the creatures from ponds and lakes and drop them during rainstorms.
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In cartoons, a mirage is depicted as a beautiful oasis springing up out of the hot desert to taunt weary travelers. In reality, mirages occur when light is refracted to produce an image of an object or the sky where it is not. Light travels through a low level of hot air and a higher level of cold air, which causes images to be inverted and shifted lower than the object really is. This effect can cause the sky to be reflected on the ground, giving the illusion of a lake.