Strange Weather: 7 Times Weather Was Stranger Than Fiction

July 29, 2021

Firebolt lightning. Holes in the sky. Dueling tornadoes. Sure, the world we live in is privvy to some weird and very random weather that includes all of these and more. But it’s very rare to see weather that is so unusual even science has a hard time explaining it. Here are seven times where the weather and atmosphere are so strange, it sounds like something out of a science fiction novel.

1. Blood Rain

From November to December 2012, residents of Sri Lanka got a unique rainstorm—blood rain. Although the rain wasn’t always red (it was also reported to be green, yellow, and black), it was a shock nonetheless. This was not the only instance of colored rain, with the earliest on record happening in Kerala, India as early as 1896.

The Kerala red rain phenomenon was most prolific between July and September 2001, where the blood rain deposited over 100k pounds of the particulate matter that made up the color. The reason? Despite scientists’ early beliefs that the rain was the result of meteor particles, the Indian Government finally concluded that the strange weather was a result of a local green algae.

Blood Rain Water Sample, Wikimedia Commons

Of course, this was not the only instance of blood rain, and there have been few consistent scientific conclusions in over a hundred years of seeing it worldwide. Blood rain (or the spores that give it its color) has been identified as a type of rust fungus, dust from local farms, biological material from a passing comet, and even identified by some as a new species with “extraordinary characteristics.” Researchers Godfrey Louis and Santhosh A. Kumar reported of their 2003 research of the spores:

The microorganism isolated from the red rain of Kerala shows very extraordinary characteristics, like the ability to grow optimally at 300 °C (572 °F) and the capacity to metabolize a wide range of organic and inorganic materials.

So, whether its just a dust-covered raindrop or literally an alien invasion from the sky, science is still looking for a good reason why sometimes the rain is literally purple.

2. Meat Tornado

From the earliest weather records known to man, strange things have been falling from the sky. In Yoro, Honduras, fish rain is so commonplace that they have a specialized term for the annual event—”Lluvia de Peces” or “rain of fish.” And although the most recent frog rain was in Serbia in 2005, the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder documented storms of frogs and fish as early as the First Century AD.

Reputed Shower of Fish and Nikolaisberg, Transylvania, University of Washington, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Of course, the phenomenon is not really about rain, but about tornadoes and hurricanes swirling up matter as they form over bodies of water. And although the sight of tiny frogs and fish falling from the heavens seems apocalyptic, consider how shocking it would be to get a rain of golf balls, spiders (good on ya’, Australia), or raw meat.

In the last instance, scientists still don’t know what the strange, flesh-like substance that rained down on Bath County, Kentucky in 1976. Although residents claimed it looked like flakes of beef (and scientists who ate it couldn’t decide if it was mutton or venison), there were some who thought it was a cyanobacteria that had congealed into a meat-like jelly before falling. Either way, the Kentucky Meat Shower of 1876 remains one of the weirdest weather mysteries of all time.

3. The Brocken Spectre

Picture yourself at the top of a snowy mountain peak, chill and happy to have some alone time viewing the vista below. Then, as if conjured by the air, you see a shadowy figure illuminated in a rainbow halo. Is it a spiritual visitation? A cursed haunting? It’s actually a Brocken Spectre, a strange play of light, water, and air that have left mountain climbers breathless for centuries.

Spectre de Brocken, 18 August 2007, Source: Vercors-Aiguillette, Grelibre.net

Although many a lonely hiker has reached the summit to find this spectre waiting for them, there is actually a scientific reason for this weather phenomenon. As the sun creates a shadow of the person viewing the Brocken Spectre, the shadow is capture on the droplets of light behind.

The attending rainbow (called a “glory”) on many Brocken Spectres comes from the same sunlight being caught in the mist or fog and fractured into a light circle.

Throughout history, the phenomenon has been seen as either heavenly or terrifying, with many pastoral communities convinced that the mountaintops were haunted by the terrifying creature. This section of Round-about Rambles in Lands of Fact and Fancy (published in 1910, authored by Frank Richard Stockton) shows just how terrifying the Spectre could be.

“A gigantic figure haunts the Mountains, known by the name of “The Spectre of the Brocken.” The ignorant peasants were, in former times, in great fear of it, thinking it a supernatural being, and fancying that it brought upon them all manner of evil. And it must be confessed it was a fearful sight to behold suddenly upon the summit of a lofty mountain an immense giant, sometimes pointing in a threatening attitude to a village below, as if dooming it to destruction; sometimes with arms upraised, as if invoking ruin upon all the country; and sometimes stalking along with such tremendous strides as to make but one step from peak to peak; often dwarfing himself to nothingness, and again stretching up until his head is in the clouds, then disappearing entirely for a moment, only to reappear more formidable than before.”

4. The Green Flash

Mock mirage and Green flash in San Francisco, 2006, Brocken Inaglory

As much as we don’t like to get our science from Disney, who knew that the Green Pirate Flash was a real occurrence? Apparently, this strange atmospheric condition only happens at sunrise or sunset—just like Cap’n Jack told us it does. With the right weather conditions and a careful eye, the discerning pirate can see the green glow as the sun goes down to…whatever is next? 

According to Jules Verne’s 1882 novel, “Le Rayon Vert” (The Green Ray), one Scottish legend says that those who see the green flash gets a glimpse of his own soul. Other sources suggest that a soul escapes the land of the dead. But an old English proverb states: “Glimpse you ere the green ray, Count the morrow a fine day.” So maybe it is just all about weather.

From a scientific perspective, the green flash is not a reflection of the ocean, a mishandled photo flash, or an old wive’s tale. The truth is that the green flash is brought about by an increase of atmosphere between the viewer and the sun as the sun drops below the horizon. As water vapor absorbs the yellow and orange colors (with air molecules scattering the higher purples and violet-blues), all that’s left on the visual spectrum is a flash of green.

5. The Sun Dog

“I want to tell you that on the day after the departure of our brothers Kuntz and Michel, on a Friday, we saw three suns in the sky for a good long time, about an hour…Even though the other two suns were not as bright as the one, they were clearly visible. I feel this was no small miracle.” — Jakob Hutter, 1533.

Of course, seeing multiple suns in a sky is every science fiction fan’s best day ever. Still, there are people, like Hutter, that have had this experience in real life. What is the strange experience of seeing multiple suns in the sky? Just like the Brocken Spectre, this is another cold-weather apparition that takes the light from the sun and splits it into reflective images that can make any person with a vivid imagination feel that they have stepped into another world.

The effect (called Sun Dogs, Mock Sun, or parhelion), is all dependent on the cloud formations and ice crystals. When ice crystals in the clouds are a special hexagon shape, the sun’s light is reflected in the air to create myriad tiny rainbows.

As these ice crystals fall from where they are created (very high in the atmosphere), some of these flatten so that the hexagon face of the crystal stands on edge like a mirror. When they reach the level of the viewer’s eye, the mirrors give the illusion that the sun is in more than one place in the sky, or that there are multiple suns.

parhelia taken in -14 degrees Fahrenheit weather

Photo courtesy of Zack Riel. A photo of two parhelia taken in -14 degrees Fahrenheit weather

6. Hair Ice

Hair Ice – Haareis – Deutschland – Thüringer Wald – Inselberg, November 2017, TOMMES-WIKI

If you ever find yourself walking through a strange and hypnotic forest of long, flowing hair trees, we promise you are not hallucinating (unless you ate that mushroom that we told you not to touch). More than likely you are seeing another of our favorite weird weather situations: hair ice.

Forests of this thick, hairlike substance can be found in England and Northern Ireland and is sometimes compared to cotton candy (or candy floss). When it’s cold and humid, the hair grows thick on branches, a phenomenon that has stumped scientists since its first appearance in 1918.

Hair Ice (also called frost wool or ice beard) has very recently been linked to a fungus. When the temperature drops, the fungus exidiopsis effusa releases chemicals at a steady rate, allowing thin strings of chemical to be frozen into “hairs.” The nature of the fungus also prevents stacking or combining of the chemical, so each is like and individual, giving the ice it’s hairy look.

7. Earth’s Shadow

They say at the edge of the world you can see where the ocean falls into oblivion. At least, that’s what a lot of seafarers from 200 years ago insisted was at the world’s edge. While there is no real edge to lean out over, one of the most evocative of our strange weather phenomena is nearly as captivating—the earth’s shadow. And while you may have seen it, very few people take the opportunity to really notice it.

When the sky is very clear, there is a moment at sundown where the earth’s shadow is clearly delineated on the face of the earth. It might take you a lot of neck-craning to see it all at once, however—it is over 800k miles long and is big enough to reach the moon.

The shadow itself is deep blue-grey, much darker than the color of the sky during the last stages of sunset. Typically you can find it by locating the pink band above the shadow called the Belt of Venus. Once you see it, you’ll notice that it’s moving at the same rate as the sun is setting. A perfect reminder that the world is far bigger and more magical than you could ever imagine.

Earth’s shadow just following sunset, February 1, 2016, Kevin Gill

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