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.

How Waffle House Helps Measure the Severity of a Natural Disaster

iStock
iStock

There are a lot of ways the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assesses and addresses the severity of a natural disaster. Meteorology can predict movement patterns, wind gusts, and precipitation. Resources are dispatched to areas hit hardest by torrential weather.

But when the agency needs an accurate, ground-level gauge for how a community is coping during a crisis, they turn to Waffle House.

Since 2004, FEMA has utilized what former administrator Craig Fugate called the “Waffle House Index.” Because the casual dining chain is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, tracking to see if a location is closed or working with limited supplies can help inform the agency as to whether affected areas are ailing or taking steps toward normalcy.

“If a Waffle House is closed because there's a disaster, it's bad,” Fugate told NPR in 2011. “We call it red. If they're open but have a limited menu, that's yellow ... If they're green, we're good, keep going. You haven't found the bad stuff yet.”

For FEMA, the ability to order a plate of smothered and covered hash browns is an important analytic. If a Waffle House is having trouble getting stock, then transportation has been interrupted. If the menu is limited, then it’s possible they have some utilities but not others. If its locations have locked their doors, inclement weather has taken over. The chain’s locations would normally stay open even in severe conditions to help first responders.

The company has opened a Waffle House Storm Center to gather data in anticipation of Hurricane Florence, a Category 2 storm expected to touch down in the Carolinas this week. But not all locations are taking a wait-and-see approach. One Waffle House in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina has already closed due to the looming threat, making it the first red dot on the Index.

[h/t CNN]

See What Hurricane Florence Looks Like From Space

NASA via Getty Images
NASA via Getty Images

As Hurricane Florence continues to creep its way toward the Carolinas, it’s repeatedly being described as both "the storm of the century” and "the storm of a lifetime” for parts of the coastlines of North and South Carolina. While that may sound like hyperbole to some, Alexander Gerst—an astronaut with the European Space Agency—took to Twitter to prove otherwise with a few amazing photos, and issued a warning to “Watch out, America!”

According to the National Weather Service, “Hurricane Florence will be approaching the Carolina shores as the day progresses on Thursday. Although the exact timing, location, and eventual track of Florence isn't known, local impacts will likely begin in the afternoon hours and only worsen with time throughout the evening and overnight period.”

On Tuesday, Wilmington, North Carolina's National Weather Service took the warning even one step further, writing: "This will likely be the storm of a lifetime for portions of the Carolina coast, and that's saying a lot given the impacts we've seen from Hurricanes Diana, Hugo, Fran, Bonnie, Floyd, and Matthew. I can't emphasize enough the potential for unbelievable damage from wind, storm surge, and inland flooding with this storm.”

Gerst’s photos certainly drive that point home.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER