5 Weird But Real Weather Events

This scene was caused by a tanker full of mackerel spilling on a Belfast street in 2015, but a fish rain might look similar.
This scene was caused by a tanker full of mackerel spilling on a Belfast street in 2015, but a fish rain might look similar.
Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

We don’t remember most of the weather we experience on a daily basis. Even hardcore weather geeks are hard-pressed to recall many events beyond what reporters would cover on the news. But there are some atmospheric tantrums that are memorable because of how bizarre they are. Here are some true-yet-bizarre weather phenomena that you'd be sure to remember if you ever got to experience them firsthand.

1. WEIRDNESS: RAINS OF FROGS AND FISH. CAUSE: TORNADOES

Tornadoes can do some weird things. A tornado can destroy one house while leaving the house next door seemingly untouched. They can grow miles wide or last for just a couple of seconds. But one of the weirdest things about tornadoes is that they can actually make it rain aquatic creatures. If a tornado passes over a body of water like a lake, river, or pond, the extreme suction can lift fish and frogs right out of the water. What goes up must come down, and sometimes there are people in the way to tell the story after the skies clear out.

The Library of Congress reports that fish fell on a town in Louisiana back in 1947 after a rambunctious storm. Halfway around the world, a tornado caused "thousands of frogs" to rain from the sky on a town in Serbia in 2005.

2. WEIRDNESS: HEAT BURSTS AT NIGHT. CAUSE: THUNDERSTORMS

The Sun going down on a hot day usually robs thunderstorms of the instability they need to survive, ending the day's rumbling thunder and heavy rain not long after dark. However, some thunderstorms don't go out quietly. Folks on the American Plains have to deal with heat bursts every once in a while. If a layer of dry air develops within a dissipating thunderstorm, the rain falling out of the storm can evaporate all at once. The evaporating rain creates a bubble of cool, dense air that rushes toward the ground. This bubble of descending air compresses as it falls, causing it to dramatically warm up before crashing into the ground.

Alva, Oklahoma, recently experienced one of these heat bursts. The temperature there at 7:00 p.m. on June 15, 2017, was a balmy 90°F with thunderstorms in the area. By 8:00 p.m., the temperature dramatically rose to 96°F, and it peaked at 99°F by 8:20 p.m.. The sudden rise in temperature was accompanied by 20 to 30 mph winds and a sharp drop in humidity. Temperatures returned to normal by 9:30 p.m. Some heat bursts are even more dramatic, briefly raising temperatures above 100°F even in the middle of the night.

3. WEIRDNESS: PLANES THAT CAN'T FLY. CAUSE: INTENSE HEAT

Weather is the cause of most flight delays and cancellations in the United States. Whether conditions are too extreme for safe flying or rain and clouds just slow things down, it's never fun to have to fly when there's a big weather system rolling through. Sometimes even clear skies and bright sunshine can cancel flights. Phoenix, Arizona, recently made the news for their record-breaking heat wave canceling flights at the city's major airport.

Temperatures rose as high as 120°F in Phoenix, preventing some flights from safely landing or departing. Since hot air is less dense than cold air, extreme heat can prevent certain airplanes from generating the lift they need to safely take flight. If these airplanes try to take off in excessively high temperatures, the airplane runs the risk of barreling off the end of the runway before it could lift off.

4. WEIRDNESS: WET CYCLONES ON DRY LAND. CAUSE: POSSIBLY "BROWN OCEAN EFFECT"

Tropical cyclones usually fall apart once they make landfall. These swirling storms gather their energy from the heat given off by warm ocean waters; once that source of warmth runs out, the thunderstorms around the eye of the cyclone fizzle out and the storm starts weakening. Not all storms immediately fall apart once they hit land, though. Recent studies suggest that there's a "brown ocean effect," where warm, moist soil can serve as a substitute for warm ocean water, helping cyclones stay alive a little longer over land.

The southern United States saw a great example of this not too long ago. Tropical Storm Erin made landfall in Texas in August 2007 as a weak storm with 40 mph winds. Erin made its way inland and unexpectedly strengthened over Oklahoma three days later. The storm eventually grew stronger over central Oklahoma than it had been when it was over the Gulf of Mexico. The storm blew through Oklahoma with wind gusts of more than 80 mph and even started to develop an eye-like feature as it approached Oklahoma City.

5. WEIRDNESS: BALL LIGHTNING. CAUSE: UNKNOWN

A healthy fear of lightning is normal. This awe-inspiring phenomenon is hotter than the surface of the Sun and packs enough electrical charge to stop your heart if you're unlucky enough to get struck. Lightning is the subject of extensive scientific study, but we still don't know everything about this immense force of nature, including why it can sometimes form into a ball.

We don't know much about ball lightning outside of the thousands of anecdotal reports from people who were startled by this unusual and short-lived phenomenon. Ball lightning is reportedly lightning that forms into a ball immediately after the strike of a normal bolt of lightning. After forming, it can reportedly move erratically, skip across the ground, and burn through surfaces it touches. Most reports state that it only lasts a couple of seconds before disappearing. A group of Chinese scientists captured this phenomenon on camera for the first time back in 2012, but experiencing it was the result of pure luck—something that doesn't foster much scientific research.

Storm Leaves Homes Along Lake Erie Covered in Up To Three Feet of Ice

Houses along Lake Erie's shoreline were pummeled with sheets of icy water during a storm last week.
Houses along Lake Erie's shoreline were pummeled with sheets of icy water during a storm last week.
John Normile/Getty Images

This past weekend, lakeside residents of Hamburg, New York, awoke to find their neighborhood transformed into a full-scale replica of Frozen’s ice-covered kingdom, Arendelle.

According to CNN, gale force winds produced giant waves that sprayed the houses along Lake Erie with sheets of water for two days straight, covering them in layers of ice up to three feet thick.

“It looks fake, it looks surreal,” Hamburg resident Ed Mis told CNN. “It’s dark on the inside of my house. It can be a little eerie, a little frightening.”

While the homeowners are anxious for the ice to melt, they’re also concerned about what could happen when it does.

“We’re worried about the integrity, of structure failure when it starts to melt, because of the weight on the roof,” Mis said.

He added that this is the worst ice coating he’s seen since he moved to the area eight years ago—but it’s not because they’ve had a particularly harsh winter. In fact, just the opposite is true. According to The Detroit News, warm winter temperatures have caused ice cover on the Great Lakes to drop from 67 percent in 2019 to less than 20 percent this year.

“Lake Erie typically has significant ice cover by this time of the year, and that protects the shoreline from these battering storms,” The Weather Channel’s winter weather expert Tom Niziol explained in a video.

The phenomenon has created another unforeseen issue for Hamburg’s coast, too: Tourism. The local police department posted a message on Facebook on Sunday, March 1, asking people to keep off both the “extremely unsafe and unstable” ice and people's private property.

[h/t CNN]

What is Lake-Effect Snow?

Tainar/iStock via Getty Images
Tainar/iStock via Getty Images

As you probably guessed, you need a lake to experience lake-effect snow. The primary factor in creating lake-effect snow is a temperature difference between the lake and the air above it. Because water has a high specific heat, it warms and cools much more slowly than the air around it. All summer, the sun heats the lake, which stays warm deep into autumn. When air temperatures dip, we get the necessary temperature difference for lake-effect snow.

As the cool air passes over the lake, moisture from the water evaporates and the air directly above the surface heats up. This warm, wet air rises and condenses, quickly forming heavy clouds. The rate of change in temperature as you move up through the air is known as the "lapse rate"; the greater the lapse rate, the more unstable a system is—and the more prone it is to create weather events.

Encountering the shore only exacerbates the situation. Increased friction causes the wind to slow down and clouds to "pile up" while hills and variable topography push air up even more dramatically, causing more cooling and more condensation.

The other major factors that determine the particulars of a lake-effect snowstorm are the orientation of the wind and the specific lake. Winds blowing along the length of a lake create greater "fetch," the area of water over which the wind blows, and thus more extreme storms like the one currently pummeling the Buffalo area. The constraints of the lake itself create stark boundaries between heavy snow and just a few flurries and literal walls of snow that advance onto the shore. The southern and eastern shores of the Great Lakes are considered "snow belts" because, with winds prevailing from the northwest, these areas tend to get hit the hardest.

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