CLOSE
Original image
istock

5 Weather Events Worth Chatting About

Original image
istock

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

iStock

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

iStock

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.

Original image
RAMMB/CIRA
arrow
science
The Coolest Meteorological Term You'll Learn This Week
Original image
Two tropical cyclones orbiting around each other in the northwestern Pacific Ocean on July 25, 2017.
RAMMB/CIRA

What happens when two hurricanes start to invade each other's personal space? It's easy to picture the two hurricanes merging into one megastorm that tears across the ocean with twice the fury of a normal storm, but what really happens is less dramatic (although it is a beautiful sight to spy on with satellites). Two cyclones that get too close to one another start to feel the pull of a force called the Fujiwhara Effect, a term that's all the rage in weather news these days.

The Fujiwhara Effect occurs when two cyclones track close enough to each other that the storms begin orbiting around one another. The counterclockwise winds spiraling around each cyclone force them to participate in what amounts to the world's largest game of Ring Around the Rosie. The effect is named after Sakuhai Fujiwhara, a meteorologist who studied this phenomenon back in the early 1900s.

The extent to which storms are affected by the Fujiwhara Effect depends on the strength and size of each system. The effect will be more pronounced in storms of equal size and strength; when a large and small storm get too close, the bigger storm takes over and sometimes even absorbs its lesser counterpart. The effect can have a major impact on track forecasts for each cyclone. The future of a storm completely depends on its new track and the environment it suddenly finds itself swirling into once the storms break up and go their separate ways.

We've seen some pretty incredible examples of the Fujiwhara Effect over the years. Hurricane Sandy's unusual track was in large part the result of the Fujiwhara Effect; the hurricane was pulled west into New Jersey by a low-pressure system over the southeastern United States. The process is especially common in the northwestern Pacific Ocean, where typhoons fire up in rapid succession during the warmer months. We saw a great example of the effect just this summer when two tropical cyclones interacted with each other a few thousand miles off the coast of Japan.

Weather Channel meteorologist Stu Ostro pulled a fantastic animated loop of two tropical cyclones named Noru and Kulap swirling around each other at the end of July 2017 a few thousand miles off the coast of Japan.

Typhoon Noru was a small but powerful storm that formed at about the same latitude as Kulap, a larger but much weaker storm off to Noru's east. While both storms were moving west in the general direction of Japan, Kulap moved much faster than Noru and eventually caught up with the latter storm. The Fujiwhara Effect caused Typhoon Noru to stop dead in its tracks, completely reverse its course and eventually perform a giant loop over the ocean. Typhoon Noru quickly strengthened and became the dominant cyclone; the storm absorbed Kulap and went on to become a super typhoon with maximum winds equivalent to a category 5 hurricane.

Original image
Kelly Gorham
arrow
Space
Balloon Cams Will Offer Unparalleled Views of the Total Solar Eclipse
Original image
Kelly Gorham

The August 2017 total solar eclipse should be visible to some degree from just about everywhere in the continental United States—that is, if the weather cooperates. But now, even if it doesn't, everyone will be able to watch along, thanks to livestreamed video from balloon cams drifting miles above the Earth.

Astrophysicist Angela Des Jardins of Montana State University (MSU) got the idea to monitor the magnificent cosmic event from the air after reading about an airplane pilot's flight through the path of a 2013 eclipse. She thought her students might enjoy the chance to get an up-close look for themselves.

But what started as a class project quickly, well, ballooned. At last count, teams from more than 50 other schools had joined the Eclipse Ballooning Project. The core of the work remains close to home; MSU students have designed, built, and tested the equipment, and even offered multi-day training for students from other schools. Undergrads in the computer science and engineering programs even created the software that air traffic controllers will use to track the balloons on the big day.

Students carry a large white weather balloon across a tarmac.
Photo courtesy of the Montana Space Grant Consortium

The next step was to get the balloon cam footage to a larger audience. Seeing no reason to think small, Des Jardins went straight to the source, inviting NASA and the website Stream to join the fun. The space agency is now beefing up its website in anticipation of 500 million livestream viewers.

And what a view it should be. The balloons will rise more than 80,000 feet—even higher than NASA's airplane-mounted telescopes.

"It's a space-like perspective," Des Jardins said in a press statement. "From that height you can see the curvature of the Earth and the blackness of space."

Online or outside, Des Jardins says viewers can expect a kind of "deep twilight, with basically a 360-degree sunset" during the eclipse.

She urges everyone to get outside if they can to see the event with their own eyes, but expects the balloon cams will deliver something really special.

"On the ground, an eclipse just kind of happens to you. It just gets dark," Des Jardins told New Scientist. "From the air, you can see it coming and going. I think that perspective is really profound."

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios