A Perfect Planet

Meteoro-illogical: The world’s weirdest weather

By Dale Shaw

Is this the weirdest weather on Earth?

It’s always been natural for conversation to fall to the topic of weather, even when the weather itself is fairly unremarkable. However, there are meteorological events that are worthy of much discussion and fervent examination. Conditions that are seen, heard and, yes, even smelt, that cause confusion, fear, and lots of pointing. Here’s a collection of a few of the planet’s oddest weather happenings.

Female peacock frog sitting on leaf in rain.
Fish, frogs, prawns and snakes have all been reported to have fallen from the sky. © Mark Bridger | Getty
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Rain that's not rain

Unusual items dropping from clouds that definitely is not rain isn’t purely the domain of some biblical texts. Fish, frogs, prawns and snakes have all been reported to have fallen from the sky, all across the globe, often many miles from a logical source. It occurs when whirlwinds turn into water spouts as they travel across shallow water. They lift up anything in their path, before forming into clouds that eventually deposit their booty onto a baffled populous below. People have even witnessed what appears to be blood showering down upon them, only to discover on closer inspection that it’s actually red coloured dust and sand mixing in with the rain drops.

Snow falling in street
Loud snow occurs with the meeting of warm and cold air leading to a massive release of energy. © Stephen Bridger | Getty

Loud snow

The British press recently revelled in an instance of extreme thundersnow that scared the residents of Edinburgh out of their wits. Though quite rare, this cold-weather equivalent of a summer lightning storm is triggered in exactly the same way, with the meeting of warm and cold air leading to the massive release of energy. It’s just quite odd to see it accompanied by snow rather than rain. If that wasn’t strange enough, there’s also a phenomenon called a ‘frost quake’, when a sudden, extreme drop in temperature freezes water in the ground, creating tension - as it rapidly expands - that’s released in an explosion like eruption. Yikes!

A colourless rainbow above a tree
That's right, fogbows are real and look just like this. Scott Robertson | Getty


Red and yellow and pink and… yes, we all know the tune. But did you know there are many other “bows” and not just the multicoloured variety? For instance, there’s the fogbow, caused by the sun interacting with water droplets held in mist or cloud and forming… well a greyish “rainbow” of fog. Then there’s the far more exciting-sounding fire rainbow, which can look like a rainbow plastered against a cloud or even an arc of flame across the sky. These have the fancy name of “circumhorizontal arc” and are formed when cirrus clouds interact with the Sun when it is at least 58 degrees high in the sky. Cirrus clouds are short, detached, hair-like clouds found at high altitudes. And don’t forget the moonbow, a lunar “rainbow”, where light from the moon refracts through water droplets.

Sun halos in a snowy forest
Sun halos are caused by cirrus clouds containing ice crystals. © Martin Ruegner | Getty

Fun with the Sun

The Sun isn’t one to be left out, either. Sun halos resemble a dramatic ring around the Sun, caused by cirrus clouds (them again) containing hexagonal ice crystals that drift across the Sun’s rays. Sun dogs, or parhelia, are a similar sort of phenomena where the Sun appears to have two bright companions at exactly 22° on either side. Again, this is down to the solar rays hitting ice crystals. Meanwhile, the Belt of Venus is a truly beautiful atmospheric optical illusion, where a pink band of light swaddles the sky. It’s visible shortly before sunrise or after sunset and is caused by the Earth’s shadow meeting the rising or setting sun.

Firefighters tackle a fire
Fire whirls are vortexes of flames rotating vertically and can be as tall as 1000 feet. © Jurkos | Getty

Fire power

If tornadoes weren’t terrifying enough, when they take place during a forest fire or similar conflagration, they can enter a whole new dimension of fear. Fire devils - or fire whirls - are vortexes of flame, rotating vertically, that can grow to an alarming 1000 feet tall. Slightly less worrying to see is St Elmo’s Fire, a blue glow that appears to cling to tall objects during a thunderstorm. It’s actually a form of plasma, released when the air molecules around the object in question are ionized. Similarly unsettling is ball lightning, an as-yet unexplained phenomenon, described as glowing, floating orbs that usually appear during thunderstorms. Scientists have been trying to figure out what causes them for hundreds of years, some even claiming they don’t actually exist. But a recent study suggests it could be light that’s trapped inside a sphere of thin air. Or magic. (OK, maybe not).

Featured image © George Pachantouris | Getty