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This scene was caused by a tanker full of mackerel spilling on a Belfast street in 2015, but a fish rain might look similar.
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5 Weird But Real Weather Events

Original image
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.

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This scene was caused by a tanker full of mackerel spilling on a Belfast street in 2015, but a fish rain might look similar.
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Weather Watch
3 Ways We Can (Kind of) Control the Weather, and 5 Ways We Can't

Humans have the incredible ability to control the world around us. We can move mountains and land robots on other planets. We can keep each other alive longer than ever before and even bring entire species back from the brink of extinction. But despite all of our leaps forward, we're still unable to control the weather, a tremendous force that affects every human being on this planet. Still, humans have come up with some pretty crafty ways of influencing the weather—in small doses.

1. WE CAN MAKE IT RAIN … SOMEWHAT.

The desire to control weather has been a mainstay of imagination since, well, the beginning of imagination. The fortunes of entire societies can hinge on flood or drought. We have strong motivation to want to create a rainstorm in one spot or moderate snowfall in another. But the greatest success we've ever had is a technique that can (maybe) encourage a tiny bit of rain to form over a tiny area.

Cloud seeding is a process through which fine particles like silver iodide are released into a cloud in order to encourage the formation of rain or snow. These particulates serve as a nucleus around which water vapor can condense and turn into a raindrop or a snowflake. This is most commonly done with small airplanes, but it can also be accomplished by launching tiny rockets or flares from the ground.

In theory, the practice of cloud seeding could have innumerable uses around the world, including crop maintenance, providing drinking water, and even possibly weakening severe thunderstorms or hurricanes. There's only one problem: It doesn't work all that well.

The effectiveness of cloud seeding is a hot topic of debate among scientists, but most studies have either found negligible impacts on precipitation, or the researchers were unable to determine the exact impact of cloud seeding. Cloud seeding is a great concept if you want to help one cloud produce a little extra rain or snow just to say you can do it, but it's not the way to go if you're desperate and want to trigger a deluge. This process requires the pre-existing presence of clouds, so even if the technology improves in the future, it's not a viable solution for drought-stricken areas that haven't seen meaningful clouds in weeks.

2. WE CAN DEFINITELY ATTRACT LIGHTNING USING ROCKETS.

Lightning safety is one of the things you learn from a very young age. "When thunder roars, go indoors," as the motto goes. We learn to stay away from open areas and water during thunderstorms. But what if you wanted to attract lightning? It's surprisingly easy to do if you have the right equipment and really, really want to encounter some of nature's fury.

Scientists who want to study lightning can bring it right to their doorstep by using specially designed rockets attached to conductive wires that lead to the ground below. When a thunderstorm blows over the observation station, operators can launch these rockets up into the clouds to trigger a lightning strike that follows the wire right down to the ground where the rocket was launched. Voila, instant lightning. Just add rocket fuel.

3. WE CAN CREATE CLOUDS AND HEAT—EVEN WHEN WE DON'T MEAN TO.

Most of the ways in which we control—or, more accurately, influence—the weather is through indirect human actions—often unintentional. "Whoops, the nuclear power plant just caused a snowstorm" isn't as crazy as it sounds. Steam stacks can and do produce clouds and updrafts with enough intensity to create rain or snow immediately downwind. The very presence of cities can generate microclimates with warmer temperatures and heavier rain. And there's also climate change, the process in which our accumulated actions over a long period of time are influencing the very climate itself.

BUT WE CAN'T DO THE FIVE FOLLOWING THINGS.

Despite our limited ability to influence a few aspects of weather over small areas, there are some rather colorful conspiracy theories about whether or not governments and organizations are telling the whole truth about how much we can accomplish with today's technology. There are folks who insist that the trails of condensed water vapor, or "contrails," left behind jet aircraft are really chemicals being sprayed for sinister purposes. (They're not.) There are theories that a high-frequency, high-power array of antennas deep in the Alaskan wilderness can control every weather disaster in the world. (It doesn't.) There are even folks who insist that Doppler weather radar carries enough energy to "zap" storms into existence on demand. (Dr. Evil wishes.)

There are also some bizarre and unworkable theories that are offered in good faith. A meteorologist a few years ago opined on whether building an excessively tall wall across middle America could disrupt weather patterns that could lead to tornado activity. And every year the National Hurricane Center is peppered with questions about whether or not detonating nuclear bombs in a hurricane would disrupt the storm's structure. Unfortunately, while pseudoscience offers up great theories to test in the movies, when it comes to weather, we're still not in control.

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This scene was caused by a tanker full of mackerel spilling on a Belfast street in 2015, but a fish rain might look similar.
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Weather Watch
NASA Figures Out Why When It Rains, It (Sometimes) Drizzles
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What’s the difference between drizzle and rain? It has to do with updrafts, according to new research by NASA scientists into the previously unexplained phenomenon of why drizzle occurs where it does.

The answer, published in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, could help improve how weather and climate models treat rainfall, making predictions more accurate.

Previously, climate researchers thought that drizzle could be explained by the presence of aerosols in the atmosphere. The microscopic particles are present in greater quantities over land than over the ocean, and by that logic, there should be more drizzle over land than over the ocean. But that's not the case, as Hanii Takahashi and her colleagues at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory found. Instead, whether or not rain becomes full droplets or stays as a fine drizzle depends on updrafts—a warm current of air that rises from the ground.

Stronger updrafts keep drizzle droplets (which are four times smaller than a raindrop) floating inside a cloud longer, allowing them to grow into full-sized rain drops that fall to the ground in the splatters we all know and love. In weaker updrafts, though, the precipitation falls before the drops form, as that light drizzle. That explains why it drizzles more over the ocean than over land—because updrafts are weaker over the ocean. A low-lying cloud over the ocean is more likely to produce drizzle than a low-lying cloud over land, which will probably produce rain.

This could have an impact on climate modeling as well as short-term weather forecasts. Current models make it difficult to model future surface temperatures of the Earth while still maintaining accurate projections about the amount of precipitation. Right now, most models that project realistic surface temperatures predict an unrealistic amount of drizzle in the future, according to a NASA statement. This finding could bring those predictions back down to a more realistic level.

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