Humans have been fascinated with weather since the beginning of our time here on the planet. And with good reason: there are plenty of wild weather patterns and phenomena that seem too crazy to even be real.
Have you ever seen a fire tornado twirling up into the sky, or softball-sized hail smashing through windows? What if the temperature dropped by 100 degrees in one day?
Let’s take a look at some of the wildest — and often dangerous — weather conditions that have been seen.
In January 2018, a severe winter storm brought some of the strongest and most intense cold weather that the East Coast had seen in decades.
Winter Storm Grayson didn’t just bring blizzards, though. With temperatures dropping below -20 degrees Fahrenheit, it also froze sections of the northeastern coast. It looked like something off the coast of Alaska.
When you think of winter, you likely imagine freezing cold temperatures, ice, and snow. However, there was one year that a freak heatwave hit the Midwest, bringing balmy summer-like temperatures… in March. March is still the winter in the Upper Midwest, y’all.
When the heatwave hit the Midwest in 2012, it was likely the most anomalous heat ever in U.S. history. The daily low temperatures were higher than the record for daily high temperatures. Many locations across North Dakota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and even up in Canada saw temperatures as high as 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Thundersnow, aka a winter thunderstorm, is a rare occurrence. The circumstances have to be exceptional, because thunderstorms usually form when warm air near the ground rises — and there’s not a lot of warm air going on if it’s cold enough to snow.
However, in 2017, lighting struck the Space Needle while snow fell upon Seattle, thanks to a very dramatic weather change. In fact, lightning hit the tall building at least two times. So much for lightning not striking twice.
In 1859, the most colossal solar storm to touch our planet occurred. Dubbed the Carrington Event, it was named after astronomer Richard Carrington who observed it. He spotted a cluster of enormous dark spots on the sun’s surface, but then suddenly saw what he described as “two patches of intensely bright and white light” erupting from the sunspots. Within hours, the impact would be felt all over the earth. Northern lights illuminated the globe, even in places like the Bahamas and Jamaica.
But the solar flare that caused the beautiful northern lights had the energy of 10 billion atomic bombs, and the resulting geomagnetic storm was the largest on record. Telegraph systems all over the world failed after being electrically charged, while some were completely destroyed. People were getting electrocuted, and in some places, the powerful surges caused telegraph paper marked with chemicals to combust.
The occurrence of fire tornadoes, also known as a fire whirl, has been talked about as far back as the 18th century, but there has never been any photos or video confirming their existence. That all changed in 2003, when this phenomenon was verified in the Canberra bushfires in Australia.
Don’t let the name mislead you, though. It doesn’t have anything to do with a tornado, it is the fire itself reacting to gusts of wind because heat rises. In any case, it’s still a whirling tower of fire, which is incredibly terrifying.
The town of Ain Sefra, Algeria sits in the Sahara desert, so they don’t usually see snowflakes. That all changed in 2017, when snow fell for the first time in 37 years.
As wild as it sounds that snow fell in the desert, the Algerian Sahara town saw snow again soon after that. Temperatures in the Sahara desert fell down into the 20s just last week, leaving the sand of Ain Sefra dusted in snow again.
A waterspout is an intense, funnel-shaped vortex of precipitation that occurs over a body of water. It’s quite the phenomenon.
They’re typically seen in the tropics and subtropical areas, but in Lake Michigan, you can see multiple vortexes right next to each other. These vortexes are notorious for overturning boats, and they can even cross over to land to cause more devastation.
Although this sounds like something out of The Wizard of Oz, it didn’t happen on an MGM soundstage. Folks in the small town of Kürnach, Germany caught a tornado swirling under a perfect rainbow in March 2017.
It sounds magical, and it’s definitely a very rare sighting. Unfortunately, it’s also incredibly destructive. It is still a tornado, after all.
The greatest temperature change in a 24-hour period ever measured in the U.S. happened in 1972, in Loma, Montana. It may have even been the greatest 24-hour change in the world.
Between January 14th and 15th, 1972, a 103-degree change was observed in only 24 hours. At 9 am on the morning of January 14th, it was -54 degrees Fahrenheit, but within a mere 24 hours later, it was 49 degrees F.
Montana is no stranger to extreme temperature fluctuations, either. The state also holds the record for the greatest drop in temperature over a 24-hour period.
A couple of hours away in Browning, Montana, a record was set after the temperature dropped a full 100 degrees in 1916. Between January 23rd and 24th, the temperature fell from 44 degrees Fahrenheit to a very cold -56 degrees F.
F5 tornadoes, the strongest tornadoes with maximum winds between 261 mph and 318 mph, are rare. In fact, only 59 tornadoes in the U.S. have been rated F5 since 1950. But the Super Tornado outbreak in April 1974 accounted for 7 of those F5 tornadoes in a single day.
While that’s an anomaly in its own right, one location was hit by two of these intense tornadoes. About 20 miles west of Huntsville, Alabama, was struck twice in a single day by F5 tornadoes. They were within 30 minutes of each other.
Typhoons are already intense, but a record-setting tropical cyclone broke records in Japan and caused 86 human fatalities. Typhoon Tip, known in the Philippines as Typhoon Warling, was the largest and most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded. It measured 1,380 miles in diameter, and peak wind gusts reached 190 mph. If it would have been over the U.S., it would have stretched from Dallas to New York City.
When the typhoon hit Japan in October 1979, it was the most intense typhoon to hit the main island of Honshu in more than a decade. It broke records aside from just its size, though. It actually caused the lowest recorded sea-level pressure ever observed on Earth.
Hail can be kind of scary in normal circumstances. These very hard balls of ice can cause extensive damage to property and injuries to humans and animals alike. But in 2016, parts of Texas saw hail like none other.
Thanks to a supercell thunderstorm, the least common form of thunderstorms that also produce deadly tornadoes, northern Texas saw massive hailstones falling from the sky in April 2016. Softball-sized hail came crashing into homes, shattering windows and damaging roofs. For those unlucky enough to have been driving at the time, the massive hail also shattered car windows and injured drivers.
It’s likely that you glazed over the Dust Bowl in the 1930s when you learned about the Great Depression, but it’s also likely that school didn’t go into great detail on this extremely unusual weather occurrence. It was actually a period of severe dust storms in the drought-stricken Southern Plains region that greatly damaged, well, everything.
High winds and choking dust swept 100 million acres of land from Texas to Nebraska, leaving it looking like a post-apocalyptic landscape. The massive dust cloud hovered for an entire decade, causing drought, disease, and financial devastation. People and livestock alike were killed, and crops failed across the entire region.
Considered the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history, the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 killed an estimated 8,000 people according to most official reports, but it could have been upwards of 12,000 fatalities. The storm was the worst to hit the Gulf Coast — worse than Hurricane Katrina or Michael.
The Galveston Hurricane rapidly intensified in the Gulf of Mexico, and was a category 4 hurricane when it hit Galveston, Texas. The storm tides of up to 15 feet and winds clocking in at more than 130 mph were too much for the low-lying city, and easily demolished homes and businesses alike.