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10 Awe-Inspiring Weather Phenomena

Added by Edan Barak in Nature (weather, natural phenomena) on May 26, 2014
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The phrase “it's raining cats and dogs” might be a well-known yet unlikely idiom – but it's not totally off the mark. There are reported cases of fish and frogs raining from the sky, as well as ice bombs attacking earthlings from above. This list takes a look at these strange and rare varieties of weather, some of which you might know only from myth and legend.

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Red rain

As if straight out of a sci-fi movie, red blood rain fell between July and September 2001 in Kerala, India, as well as in November 2012 in Sri Lanka. Whichever way you look at it, seeing blood red drops fall from the sky is a scary phenomenon, but easily explained with science: the source is not blood, but rather chemical - the presence of bacteria or red soil particles. The latter can be from deserts, carried away by dust storms and coloring rain drops red. Usually the exact reasons for this phenomenon need to be researched as they can differ between geographic locations and seasons. Still, many people choose to believe that red rain is a result of extraterrestrial activity, and that does make it seem a lot more ominous.

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Ice bombs

Many people actively believe that ice bombs – large balls of ice weighing around 50 pounds but also up to 100 pounds – are not related to weather at all. One theory suggests that ice bombs falling from the sky could be the result of ice build-up on aircraft wings. But can such volumes of ice accumulate on aircraft wings? The explanation remains doubtful. What is particularly surprising is that these large and heavy ice bombs are associated with clear skies. Ice bombs have also occurred during heavy thunderstorms. The sheer weight and impact of the falling ice bombs leave a considerable wake of destruction, and damage reported after these events is quite significant. To date, there is no confirmed scientific explanation for ice bombs.

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Blue jets

A result of collisions between nitrogen and oxygen at high speed, Blue jets are the outer space friends of red sprites and they often occur in similar meteorological conditions. Even more recent than red sprites, blue jets were caught on film for the very first time in 1994. Seen for an extremely short time-span – only a quarter of a second – blue jets appear as upward bolts of blue light from clouds, and can unmistakably be observed by the avid space gazer.

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Waterspouts

A combination of low pressure, water funnels and dark clouds: waterspouts occur when low pressure under cumuliform clouds sucks water into a funnel, appearing as an impressive water tornado. This upright water column is held over a water body, and can move about fairly rapidly. One good thing about this phenomenon is that it quickly dissolves the moment the waterspout reaches soil away from the water body. The entire occurrence is of fairly short duration – causing little to no harm. The sight of a waterspout is said to be both an impressive and daunting experience.

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St. Elmo’s fire

Famous seafarer and explorer Christopher Columbus experienced the St. Elmo’s fire during one of his journeys, and in fact the phenomenon has a rich history among sailors who were said to experience a religious awe as they gazed into the inexplicable fire. Today, we know that the St. Elmo’s fire is not related to fire at all – instead, it is the result of a gap in electrical charge giving the illusion of a burning flame atop a sharp object (i.e. ship masts). Because this phenomenon was so regularly observed by sailors during thunderstorms, it was named after the patron saint of sailors, St. Elmo. The flames associated with St. Elmo’s fire are not red like fire flames, but rather shades of blue or violet.

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Lenticular clouds

Many a lenticular cloud has been mistaken in a state of panic as a UFO, and rightly so - these clouds are perfect resemblances of what media made us believe a UFO would look like. These clouds are seldom seen in daylight, and usually form at nighttime or after sunset. With a smooth, saucer-like appearance, lenticular clouds are only spotted close to mountains, which also explains the formation of these UFO clouds: cold temperatures, stable and moist air surrounding mountain tops and wind pushing the moist air upwards, causing these rare clouds to form. Lenticular clouds, or altocumulus lenticularis in scientific terms, are a very rare sight and if you do see one of these UFO-sightings you can consider yourself very lucky.

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Raining fish and frogs

If you thought heavy hail was the worst mother nature could throw at you during a rainstorm, you'd be sorely mistaken. There have been numerous accounts around the world of animals falling from the sky, most often fish and frogs. While during the 1800's this phenomenon stumped the greatest of scientific minds at the time, today it's commonly accepted to be a result of tornadoes, waterspouts or whirlwinds collecting the aquatic animals from the water and dropping them some distance away from the water source. Although this explanation makes sense, there are equal accounts reporting the falls of mixed animals – fish from freshwater combined in equal quantities with fish from the sea, and in one especially unusual circumstance an unidentified animal, thought to be a cow, fell in California after being ripped to shreds. Inexplicably while some accounts tell of fish falls during heavy rain, there are many others of animals raining in clear skies.

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Sun dogs

Scientists define the sundog phenomenon (scientific name: parhelion), as the bright spots sometimes seen on both sides of the sun, often formed as a luminous ring or halo. These spots are created by the refraction of the sun's rays through ice crystals which form in cirrus clouds, and are only found on clear sunny days, and only at times when the sun is low. The ice crystals act as tiny prisms, bending the sun's rays with a minimum deflection of 22°, and lead to a complete or partial ring forming around the sun. It's interesting to note that these spots are not only found around the sun – they've also been associated with the plants Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

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Moon bows

Moon bows are created by light reflected from the moon. These very rare sightings of nighttime rainbows, or lunar rainbows, are associated with moisture and post-rain conditions, very similar to regular rainbows. Unlike rainbows, no sunlight is associated with moon bows. People who have seen moon bows should consider themselves very lucky, as the atmospheric and moon conditions need to be just perfect: a full or almost full moon at a low level, combined with moisture droplets. Moon bow hunters are more likely to find these rare bows at major waterfalls, including the Cumberland Falls (Kentucky), Waimea Canyon (Hawaii) and the Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe).

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Red sprites

This meteorological phenomenon occurs when electrical fields fire extremely high into the Earth's atmosphere. In a matter of no more than 20 milliseconds, lighting draws electrical charges from clouds surrounding the earth, and this commotion displays as red lighting forces flashing across the universe. These sprites are so elusive that scientists were able to record them on film only as recently as 1989 due to the extremely quick nature of red sprites making their filming or photographing nearly impossible. The possibility of this phenomenon has been long debated, and it was only after the first official visual recording that scientist started to investigate the reasons for these red lighting flashes in our night's sky.

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