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5 Weather Events Worth Chatting About

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Usually, the weather is a subject for polite, uneventful conversation with people you don't know very well. But sometimes the weather is weird, or even downright scary. Here are a few examples of weather events that gave neighbors more than enough to awkwardly discuss.

1. Dramatic Changes

Midwesterners are accustomed to using both their heat and air conditioning in the same day due to dramatic temperature changes and unseasonable weather. The "Great Blue Norther" of 1911 was the most dramatic cold snap ever recorded—several cities set record high and low temperatures on the same day. On November 11, 1911 (yes, 11/11/11) a massive storm system separated warm air from arctic air, yielding violent wind and storms. Kansas City, Missouri reached a high temperature of 76° F (24°C), and by midnight, the temperature plunged to 11° F (-11 C°). The 65 degree difference was replicated in Oklahoma City and Springfield, Missouri.

In addition to the temperature changes, the front also caused dust storms, tornadoes, and blizzards from Oklahoma to Ohio. Nine people were killed by an F4 tornado in Janesville, Wisconsin; an hour later rescuers were working in near zero temperatures and blizzard conditions to rescue victims. 

2. Raining Rainbows

We've all heard about the damaging effects of acid rain, but what about colored rain? Over the course of an entire month in 2001, deep red rain fell in the Kerala region of India. Yellow, green and black rain was also reported. The rain was such a deep color, residents claimed it stained clothes and resembled blood. The official report found that the unusual rain was caused by spores of a lichen-forming algae sucked into the atmosphere by a waterspout, much to the dismay of many people who thought it was caused by extraterrestrial activity.

Siberia experienced a strange yellow-orange snow in the winter of 2007. The oily, smelly snow was feared to be caused by industrial pollution, a rocket launch or maybe even a nuclear accident, but was eventually blamed on a massive sand storm in Kazakhstan.

3. Disappearing Islands

A hurricane in New York is a pretty rare occurrence—they hit about once every 75 years. In 1893, a Category 2 hurricane made landfall near present-day JFK Airport and caused extensive damage to the city, uprooting trees in Central Park, tossing wrought iron gates through buildings, and destroying nearly every building on Coney Island. The storm also obliterated a mile-long barrier island known as Hog Island, which was home to several saloons and bathhouses. The storm seriously eroded the island and destroyed all of its buildings; a few years later it was reduced to a few mounds of sand. This storm struck well before trendy hurricane names, so it was known only as the West Indian Monster of 1893. Researchers discovered dozens of antique items buried in the sand when the Rockaway Beach shores were being rebuilt in the 1990s.

4. Raining Animals

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Yes, it has rained frogs in real life, not just in the movie Magnolia. Birds, bats, fish and even worms have been reported to fall from the sky. Scientists theorize that fast-moving storms and waterspouts cross a body of water and sweep or suck up animals, then deposit them miles away. Residents of Honduras have celebrated the Lluvia de Peces (Rain of Fish) annually for more than a century. The fish are believed to be sucked up from the ocean and deposited 140 miles inland, while others have indicated that the fish may be from underground water sources.
 
Animals have been known to survive the traumatic process, appearing startled but otherwise fine. But usually, they aren't so lucky, and don't survive the fall. Two instances in the 19th century indicate that cows were sucked up into the sky during a storm, and returned to earth in tiny pieces. Animals can also freeze to death in the frigid temperatures of the atmosphere, some of them are encased in ice when they make landfall. 

5. Disappearing Seasons

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Volcanic winters, a phenomenon in which volcanic ash obscures the rays of the sun and increases the earth's reflectivity, causes dramatic decreases in temperature. In 1816, a volcanic winter led to a year where temperatures were so low in Europe and the United States, it was dubbed The Year Without a Summer. Volcanic ash from several eruptions, including Mount Tambora in Indonesia, caused irregularities worldwide, but the affects were most severe in Europe, Canada and the northern United States. A harsh frost in May destroyed many crops, snowstorms hit New England in June, and ice on rivers and lakes was observed in Pennsylvania in July and August. Snow was reported in tropical climates such as Thailand, along with colored freezing rain and snowfall in Hungary and Italy.

Food shortages forced the price of the surviving crops to record levels, and the effect was particularly devastating in Europe, where countries were still recuperating from the Napoleonic Wars. Riots and looting of warehouses became commonplace, especially in Switzerland, where a national emergency was declared. An estimated 200,000 perished from hunger and the cold temperatures in Europe alone.

The strange weather is also credited with several cultural influences. Mary Shelley and John Polidori went on a vacation to Switzerland with their friends were forced to stay inside. To keep things interesting, they started a contest to develop the scariest story, leading to Frankenstein and Vampyre. Due to the lack of feed for horses, German Karl Drais was inclined to invent the velocipede, the predecessor of the modern bicycle.

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Interactive Chart Tells You How Long It Takes to Get Frostbite
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For many people, winter means dry skin and high heating bills. But if you find yourself outdoors in the right conditions, it can also mean frostbite. Frostbite occurs when the skin and the tissue beneath it freezes, causing pain, loss of sensation, or worse. It's easier to contract than you may think, even if you don't live in the Siberian tundra. To see if frostbite poses a threat where you live, check out this chart spotted by Digg.

The chart, developed by Pooja Gandhi and Adam Crahen using National Weather Service data, looks at three factors: wind speed, air temperature, and time spent outdoors. You can hover your cursor over data-points on the table to see how long you'd need to be exposed to certain wind chills for your skin tissue to freeze. If the wind chill is -22°F, for example (10°F air temperature with 5 mph winds), it would take 31 minutes of being outside before frostbite sets in. You can also look at the time scale above the chart to calculate it a different way. If you bring your cursor to the 40-minute mark, a window will tell that frostbite becomes a risk after exposure to -17°F wind chill for that amount of time. You can play with the interactive table at Tableau Public.

Chart of cold weather conditions.
Adam Crahen, Pooja Gandhi

If you can't avoid being outside in extreme wind and cold, there are a few steps you can take to keep your skin protected. Wear lots of layers, including multiple socks, and wrap your face with a scarf or face mask before venturing into the cold. Also, remember to stay hydrated. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, drinking at least one glass of water before going outside decreases your risk of contracting frostbite.

[h/t Digg]

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Photo composite, Mental Floss. Car, ticket, Simon Laprise. Background, iStock.
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This Snow Sculpture of a Car Was So Convincing Cops Tried to Write It a Ticket
Photo composite, Mental Floss. Car, ticket, Simon Laprise. Background, iStock.
Photo composite, Mental Floss. Car, ticket, Simon Laprise. Background, iStock.

Winter is a frustrating time to be on the road, but one artist in Montreal has found a way to make the best of it. As CBS affiliate WGCL-TV reports, his snow sculpture of a DeLorean DMC-12 was so convincing that even the police were fooled.

Simon Laprise of L.S.D Laprise Simon Designs assembled the prank car using snow outside his home in Montreal. He positioned it so it appeared to be parked along the side of the road, and with the weather Montreal has been having lately, a car buried under snow wasn’t an unusual sight.

A police officer spotted the car and was prepared to write it a ticket before noticing it wasn’t what it seemed. He called in backup to confirm that the car wasn’t a car at all.

Instead of getting mad, the officers shared a good laugh over it. “You made our night hahahahaha :)" they wrote on a fake ticket left on the snow sculpture.

The masterpiece was plowed over the next morning, but you can appreciate Laprise’s handiwork in the photos below.

Snow sculpture.

Snow sculpture of car.

Snow sculpture of car.

Note written in French.

[h/t WGCL-TV]

All images courtesy of Simon Laprise.

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