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.

What is a Polar Vortex?

Edward Stojakovic, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Edward Stojakovic, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

If you’ve turned on the news or stepped outside lately, you're familiar with the record-breaking cold that is blanketing a lot of North America. According to The Washington Post, a mass of bone-chilling air over Canada—a polar vortex—split into three parts at the beginning of 2019, and one is making its way to the eastern U.S. Polar vortexes can push frigid air straight from the arctic tundra into more temperate regions. But just what is this weather phenomenon?

How does a polar vortex form?

Polar vortexes are basically arctic hurricanes or cyclones. NASA defines them as “a whirling and persistent large area of low pressure, found typically over both North and South poles.” A winter phenomenon, vortexes develop as the sun sets over the pole and temperatures cool, and occur in the middle and upper troposphere and the stratosphere (roughly, between six and 31 miles above the Earth’s surface).

Where will a polar vortex hit?

In the Northern Hemisphere, the vortexes move in a counterclockwise direction. Typically, they dip down over Canada, but according to NBC News, polar vortexes can move into the contiguous U.S. due to warm weather over Greenland or Alaska—which forces denser cold air south—or other weather patterns.

Polar vortexes aren't rare—in fact, arctic winds do sometimes dip down into the eastern U.S.—but sometimes the sheer size of the area affected is much greater than normal.

How cold is a polar vortex?

So cold that frozen sharks have been known to wash up on Cape Cod beaches. So cold that animal keepers at the Calgary Zoo in Alberta, Canada once decided to bring its group of king penguins indoors for warmth (the species lives on islands north of Antarctica and the birds aren't used to extreme cold.) Even parts of Alabama and other regions in the Deep South have seen single-digit temperatures and wind chills below zero.

But thankfully, this type of arctic freeze doesn't stick around forever: Temperatures will gradually warm up.

A Simple Trick for Defrosting Your Windshield in Less Than 60 Seconds

iStock
iStock

As beautiful as a winter snowfall can be, the white stuff is certainly not without its irritations—especially if you have to get into your car and go somewhere. As if shoveling a path to the driver’s door wasn’t enough, then you’ve got a frozen windshield with which to contend. Everyone has his or her own tricks for warming up a car in record time—including appropriately-named meteorologist Ken Weathers, who works at WATE in Knoxville, Tennessee.

A while back, Weathers shared a homemade trick for defrosting your windshield in less than 60 seconds: spray the glass with a simple solution of one part water and two parts rubbing alcohol. “The reason why this works,” according to Weathers, “is [that] rubbing alcohol has a freezing point of 128 degrees below freezing.”

Watch the spray in action below.

[h/t: Travel + Leisure]

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