The 19 Most Extraordinary Weather Phenomena In Living Memory

Image: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

We live with the vagaries of our planet’s weather every day, and perhaps we think we’ve seen it all. But these 19 examples of weird weather prove that there’s always something totally unexpected, and quite often bizarre, happening somewhere on the planet.

Image: Twitter/Bruce Haffner

19. Microburst


In July 2016 the inhabitants of Phoenix, Arizona, were treated to a rather extraordinary, and somewhat scary, weather phenomenon: a microburst. These short but powerful wind drafts can occur during thunderstorms. And amazingly, their powerful downward force creates strong gusts of wind along the ground. This one, for example, was captured by helicopter pilot Jerry Ferguson.

Image: no itinerary

18. Snow in Libya

Libyans had not seen snow for decades when the white stuff came tumbling from the skies in February 2012. Indeed, snow in Libya is a truly rare event, with the coastal lowlands generally experiencing very mild winters. However, the 2011-12 winter was an exceptionally cold one across Europe and north Africa.

Image: Twitter/Denise Eaton

17. Fire Rainbow

The meteorological term is circumhorizontal arc, but “fire rainbow” has a lot more poetry to it. And this one happened over Isle of Palms, South Carolina, in August 2015 – and lots of folks on the beach there took snaps of it. The rare phenomenon occurs when sunlight or moonlight shines through plated ice particles within wisps of cirrus cloud.

Image: Twitter/Amanda Curtis

16. Quadruple Rainbow


A single rainbow is wonderful enough, but how about four rainbows at once? Well, that’s just what happened on Long Island in April 2015. Amanda Curtis, waiting at Glen Cove Station, had the presence of mind to take this photo. Technically, it’s two double rainbows, and, curiously, the phenomenon requires a body of reflective water. Nice of Long Island Sound to comply, then.

Image: Erik Harström

15. Frost Flowers

These extraordinary “frost flowers” were seen in 2009 “blooming” on thin Arctic Sea ice. And they only form, in fact, when the air is still and colder than the frozen ice. This results in the ice sublimating into the air; a warmer vapor layer then condenses back onto the ice. When scientists melted the ice flowers, they found around a million bacteria in each milliliter or two of liquid water.

Image: JR Hott via Facebook/Panhandle Helicopter

14. Cotton Wool Cloud


Helicopter pilot JR Hott captured these bizarre cotton-wool clouds flowing over Panama City Beach, Florida, in July 2012. Apparently, this phenomenon is caused by orthographic drift. And Hott, a retired Navy diver, told the Huffington Post, “I thought it was really cool, so I put it on Facebook. We see it a few times a year, and it can happen in a minute.”

Image: NWS Aberdeen, SD

13. Giant Hailstone

Ranch hand Leslie Scott found this enormous hailstone in July 2010 in South Dakota. This lump of ice, in fact, weighs 1 pound, 15 ounces, and has a diameter of 8 inches. According to Scott, it was 3 inches bigger before he got it into a freezer. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration later confirmed that this is the biggest hailstone ever recorded in the U.S.

Image: Ekaterina Chernykh via The Siberian Times

12. Strange Snowballs


They look manmade, but these snowballs seen in November 2016 on a beach in Siberia’s Gulf of Ob are actually a naturally occurring phenomenon. They’re created when small pieces of ice are rolled around in the wind until they form snowball-like orbs. And these natural snowballs extended 11 miles along the coastline, with some as large as 3 feet across.

Image: Steve Kaufman

11. Circular Rainbow

This circular rainbow was captured by a fixed camera on the wing of a microlight aircraft flying over Oahu, Hawaii, in 2015. In fact, all rainbows are theoretically circular, but from ground level we can only appreciate half of the full circle. To see a complete circular rainbow you need to be in the air, as seen here.

Image: Twitter/Barra Best

10. Shelf Cloud


This impressive shelf cloud astonished beachgoers in Sydney, Australia, and caused a social media storm. According to AccuWeather, a shelf cloud is “a low, horizontal wedge-shaped cloud, associated with a thunderstorm gust front.” So if you see one, head for shelter, as it’s probably about to pour down.

Image: Christopher Cox

9. Fog Bow

Scientist Christopher Cox of the University of Colorado photographed this ghostly fog bow at Greenland’s Summit Station research center in April 2016. Also known as a white rainbow, a fogbow is formed by light reflecting off minuscule water droplets.

Image: Taterpugg/reddit

8. Lenticular Cloud


This spectacular lenticular cloud is hovering around the summit of Mt. Fuji in Japan. Such clouds, which are known to scientists as altocumulus lenticularis, form in the troposphere in alignment with the wind direction. And some suppose that lenticular clouds are responsible for many an alleged UFO sighting.

Image: Twitter/Sea Girt Lifeguards

7. Tsunami Fog

If you’d been standing on the beach at Sea Girt, New Jersey, during this sunset in May 2015, you may have considered running for your life – what with that tsunami heading straight for you. However, what you see in the photo is actually a rolling bank of thick clouds. This phenomenon occurs in late spring or early summer when warm air moves over the cold waters of the Atlantic.

Image: Anton Yankovyi

6. Mammatus Clouds


These incredible mammatus clouds hanging over the Nepalese Himalayas were photographed by Anton Yankovyi in April 2010. Their name, in fact, is derived from the Latin “mamma,” meaning udder, and they do indeed look spookily like giant mammaries suspended in the sky. These clouds signal the likelihood of a heavy thunderstorm, so get your raincoat on if you spot them.

Image: Facebook/Karim Bouchetata

5. Snow in the Sahara

It never snows in the Sahara, right? Well, not quite; even the world’s largest desert sees snow on rare occasions. Karim Bouchetata caught this moment in December 2016, near the Algerian town of Ain Sefra. It’s said to be the first snowfall seen there for nearly 40 years.

Image: via

4. Triple Tornados


Professional storm chaser Reed Timmer risked all to get these dramatic shots of a triple tornado for the Discovery Channel. The technical name for this terrifying phenomenon is a multiple vortex tornado. The individual columns are suction vortices, which can add a destructive 100 mph to a tornado’s speed.

Image: via Space Weather Gallery

3. Multicolored Clouds

The skies over Tromso in Norway were outlandishly adorned with multicolored clouds in December 2015, and Truls Tiller captured the moment perfectly. These are polar stratospheric clouds, which form at altitudes of around 15 miles. Everyday clouds, by contrast, don’t go much higher than six miles. The colors, according to’s Dr. Tony Phillips, come from “high-altitude sunlight shining through tiny ice particles.”

Image: David Merrigan

2. Upside-down Rainbow


It’s all gone topsy-turvy here with a rainbow that’s upside down in the sky over Yorkshire, England, in November 2016. BBC weather presenter Keeley Donovan explained that, “It is known as a circumzenithal arc. It is formed when sunlight is refracted through ice crystals rather than raindrops.” And this playful phenomenon is also known as a “smile in the sky.”

Image: Graeme Maclean

1. Hottest Place in the World

According to the Guinness Book of Records, the hottest temperature ever recorded anywhere was in California’s Death Valley. On July 10, 2013, a brain-boiling high of 134° F was recorded at Greenland Ranch. If you like it hot, then, Death Valley is the place to be. On average, there are 192 days each year when the temperature is 90° F or higher, which is probably a bit too hot for even the most dedicated sun worshipper.