• Weird Nature

The Most Rare Atmospheric Phenomena on Earth

There is a long history of man looking up into the sky and seeing something so strange that the only option was to declare it extraterrestrial. Who knows how many stories these weather anomalies spawned? Green glowing lights dancing on the horizon, iridescent glowing night clouds, sparkling moon-rainbows and odd, colorful halos in the mist. Water and light and wind can playfully mix together all kinds of beautiful, magical creations.

Which of these rare atmospheric anomalies have you seen?

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    Mammatus Clouds

    Photo: Anton Yankovyi / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0

    This amazing cloud formation is particularly spectacular, but also usually means big storm activity. They will often come out of the base of a cumulonimbus - or thunderhead - cloud and are generally indicative of a dangerous storm. They appear as smooth, ragged or lumpy lobes and may even be somewhat translucent. They are usually composed of ice but can also be a mixture of  ice and water and in some cases entirely made of water. They are formed by cold air sinking down through the cloud above and cupped by rising convective warm air.  These clouds are usually the lumpy harbingers of very severe weather.

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    Asperitas Clouds

    For many years, this scary-movie-lookin' cloud did not have a classification. It was nameless. In 2014, after being first proposed as an officially named occurrence by Gavin Pretor-Pinney of the Cloud Appreciation Society,  it was officially entered into the International Cloud Atlas. These apocalyptic looking clouds tend to be low-lying and are caused by weather fronts that create undulating waves in the atmosphere. Varying levels of illumination and thickness can create a truly dark and dramatic cloud cover. They are mostly seen on the Great Plains of the US following thunderstorms. 

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    Upwards Lightning

    While lightning can move in both directions - either the more common direction from the clouds to the ground - it is more rare to see it travel up into the clouds. This weather event primarily occurs when there is a nearby positive cloud-to-ground flash and usually requires a tall structure to begin from. The electric field change caused by the flash causes an upward positive leader to initiate from the top of the building or tower. In most cases, this upward leader is positively charged.

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    Fallstreak Holes

    These most-rare weather events are also known as a 'hole punch' clouds. They present as a large gap or open area, usually circular or elliptical, in cirrocumulus or altocumulus clouds. How the hole opens is what makes this event rare. The water temperature in the clouds has to be below freezing, but the water is still hovering on the brink of being frozen. It is theorized that any introduction of extra ice crystals sets off a domino effect of fusion. Passing aircraft leave a large reduction in pressure behind their wings and this cools the air very quickly, creating a ribbon of ice crystals in their wake. When these crystals meet the fallstreak area, they find themselves surrounded by the unfrozen droplets which grow quickly by the Bergeron process. The droplets evaporate and the hole is created. Because of their rarity and unusual appearance, fallstreak holes have been mistaken for or attributed to unidentified flying objects.

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