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Let PLANETPALS Teach You About Strange Weather Phenomena and Unusual Natural Occurences

Learn about Haloes. Sun Dogs, Sun Ghost, Belt of Venus,Noctilucent Clouds,Aurora Borealis,Mammatus Clouds, Red Rain, Moon Bows, Colored Moons, St Elmps Fire, Fire Winds, Pyrocumulus Clouds, Lenticular Clouds, Sun Pillars, Diamond Dust, Non-aqueous Rain, Virga, Katabatic Winds, Fire Rainbow, Green Ray, Ball Lightning, Sprites, Jets, and Elves, Snow Rollers, Brockenspectre, Mirages, Ice Fall / Bomb, Giant Hailstones, Sea Monster or Spinning Water, Gravity Wave, Supercell, Dust Storm (haboob), Blue Moon.

Sun Dogs

A sun dog or sundog is a common bright circular (or symmetrical) spot on a solar halo. It is an atmospheric optical phenomenon primarily associated with the reflection or refraction of sunlight by small ice crystals making up cirrus or cirrostratus clouds. Often, two sun dogs can be seen (one on each side of the sun) simultaneously.

sun dogs

Sun Ghost

If the sun really close to the horizon and there are cirrus clouds in the sky, sometimes the sun can appear on both sides reflected too, thus giving the impression of three suns appearing together in the sky. A Sun ‘ghost’ is actually the color of the bright points of light created by the sun that was deflected by the crystals in high clouds.

sun ghost


Like rainbows, haloes are formed around the Sun due to moisture (in this case ice crystals) being refracted from the Sun’s rays in the upper atmosphere. Sometimes two or more areas of the circle or arcs surrounding the Sun will be brighter, forming what are called Sun Dogs. Haloes can also form around the Moon, and occasionally around the brighter stars and planets like Venus.


Belt of Venus

The belt of Venus is a phenomenon that occurs during dusty evenings when a band of pinkish or brownish sky will appear between the sky and the horizon.


Incipient Clouds

Noctilucent clouds are atmospherically high clouds that refract light at dusk when the Sun has already set, illuminating the sky with no seeming light source.


Aurora Borealis

Also known in the southern hemisphere as the Aurora Australis, the Aurora Borealis are charged particles from the Sun that have reached the Earth’s upper atmosphere and become excited. They are more typically seen closer to the poles and during the equinoxes of the year. [Photo taken by Senior Airman Joshua Strang. Large scale public domain copy here.]

aurora Photo by Sr Airman Joshua Strang

Mammatus Clouds

These odd-shaped clouds are often associated with a storm front, especially one involving a thunderstorm. It’s not completely understood how they form.

mammatusPhoto by Jorn Olsen

Moon Bows

A rainbow is caused by the Sun shining on moisture droplets, most commonly in a post-rain atmosphere. A moon bow is much rarer, only seen at night when the moon is low and full to almost full. One popular place to see moon bows is at Cumberland Falls in Kentucky, as pictured above.

moon bows


When the shadow of an observer is cast onto a
fog bank below it often appears unusually shaped and of large proportions this is the
Spectre of the Broken, first noted by climbers in the Harz mountains of Northern Germany


broken spectre

St Elmo’s Fire

This weather phenomenon is luminous plasma that appears like fire on objects, such as the masts of ships or lightning rods, in an area that is electrically charged during a thunderstorm. This occurrence was named the after St Elmo, the patron saint of sailors. St. Elmo’s Fire is created by the soft glow of an electric field generated by a continuous flow of tiny sparks.

elmos fire

Dust Storm or Haboob (Arabic)

A haboob is a type of intense sandstorm commonly observed in arid regions throughout the world. When this downdraft, or "downburst", reaches the ground, dry, loose sand from the desert settings is essentially blown up, creating a wall of sediment preceding the storm cloud. This wall of sand can be up to 100 km (60 miles) wide and several kilometers in elevation. At their strongest, haboob winds can travel at 35-50 km/h (20-30 mph), and they may approach with little to no warning.

Often rain is not seen at the ground level as it evaporates in the hot, dry air (a phenomenon known as virga), though on occasion when the rain does persist, the precipitation can contain a considerable quantity of dust (severe cases called "mud storms"). Years ago haboobs only roamed the southern edge of the Sahara.


Whirlwinds or Dust Devils

Though they don't have the ferocious, house-lifting winds of a tornado, dust devils can certainly look scary. These whirlwinds, essentially smaller versions of tornadoes, form when there is intense heat at the ground, which causes the air above it to rise, and winds that can cause the rising air to spin. The whirlwind picks up dust from the ground, hence its name. An even scarier relative is the fire devil, which forms over the intense heat of forest fires, pulling up ropes of fire that spin furiously above the blaze.

dust devil

Fire Whirls or Fire Devils

Fire whirls (also known as fire devils or tornadoes) appear when the right combination of climactic conditions is present. Fire whirls can be spawned by other natural events such as earthquakes and thunderstorms, and can be incredibly dangerous, in some cases spinning well out of the zone of a fire itself
to cause devastation and death in a radius not even reached by heat or flame. Fire whirls have been known to be nearly a mile high, have wind speeds of over 100 miles per hour and to last for 20 or more minutes

fire whirls

Sun Pillars

Sun Pillars occur when the setting sun reflects off high, icy clouds at different layers. It creates a pillar of light that reaches high into the sky. It is also possible to see moon pillars.

sun pillars

Diamond Dust

Linked closely to haloes, diamond dust is a fog made of frozen droplets.

diamond dust

Red Rain, Yellow Rain and other Colored Rain

Red rain is caused by dust or sand that has blown into the atmosphere and is carried by the wind to great distances eventually mixed with rain clouds and gives color to the rain itself. Red rain in Europe is usually colored by the dust that is carried across the continent comes from Saharan sand storms. Other colored rain that can occur due to other objects such as : pollen could make a yellow rain, dust from coal mines could create a black rain, dust and even some rain could make white milk.

red rain

Non-aqueous Rain (Raining Cats and Dogs)

Rare and yet real, cases exist of rains of animals instead of water. This has occurred occasionally throughout history, from the Biblical times up to recent history. Meteorologists are still unsure of the cause. Tornado on the water can turn around and bring water, and whatever is therein, into the clouds. It is suspected that strong winds can carry a load a long distance.

Non-aqueous Rain

Katabatic Winds

Kabatic Winds are winds that carry dense air from a higher elevation to a lower elevation due to gravity. They are known locally as the Santa Ana (southern California), the Mistral (Mediterranean), the Bora (the Adriatic Sea), Oroshi (Japan), Pitaraq (Greenland), and the Williwaw (Tierra del Fuego). The Williwaw and winds traveling over the Antarctic are particularly hazardous, blowing over 100 knots at times.

kebatic winds

Green Ray

Also known as the Green Flash. This occurs very briefly before total sunset and after sunrise. It appears as a green flash above the sun that lasts very briefly, generally only a few moments. It is caused by refraction of light in the atmosphere.

green ray


A mirage creates the illusion of water on a dry highway on a hot summer day. Mirages occur when light is refracted to produce an image of an object or the sky where it is not. It is most commonly seen on hot surfaces, such as the pavement or a desert.



Ball Lightning

This is a very rare phenomenon that involves ball-shaped lightning that moves much slower than normal lightning. It has been reported to be as large as eight feet in diameter and can cause great damage. There are reports of ball lightning destroying whole buildings.

ball lightening

Sprites, Jets, and Elves

All refer to a phenomena that occurs in the upper atmosphere around thunderstorms. They appear as cones, glows and discharges. They were only discovered last century, because of their placement and their very brief life-span (they last less than a second).

blue jet

Snow Rollers:

Snow rollers, are snow balls formed naturally by strong winds blowing across a flat, snow covered field. Three conditions have to occur for Snow rollers to occur: The ground must be icy or be covered with a snow crust. Winds must be strong and gusty. A wet snowfall of at least a couple of inches.

Once a snow roller is formed the wind gets it to roll, collecting snow as it moves, in some cases even creating tracks of bare ground. The appearance of a snow roller resembles a scaled down version of those large rolled hay bails, only made of snow.

snow rollers

Ice Fall / Bomb

Many people have experienced Hailstorms, but rarelyhave they encountered hail or ice lumps larger than a softball (record weighed 80 pounds). Even more mysterious are giant boulders, even when there are no clouds in the sky. Some events are recorded as falling from a plane, but the cause is not known.

ice bomb

Giant Hailstones

A hailstorm is precipitation in the form of balls or lumps of clear ice and compact snow. It is not known for sure how hailstones form and grow. We do know that they are spherical or irregularly spherical and usually vary in diameter up to 1/2 in. (1.3 cm); in rare cases hailstones having diameters up to 5 in. (12.7 cm) have been observed. Hail causes much damage and injury to crops, livestock, property, and airplanes.

giant hailstorms


Going purely by the name, Supercell sounds as cool as it is. It is the name given to a continuously rotating updraft deep within a severe thunderstorm (a mesocyclone) and looks downright scary.

supercell photo by Mark Purcell

Water Spout, Sea Monster or Spinning Water

A small whirlwind, usually called the devil water, can be formed over warm water, it brings water to the top and forms a channel on the surface of the water.The "Water Devil" water spout can spin irregular, sometimes making a hissing sound and bubble like. This plus the noise sound form a long neck could give the impression that there are sea monsters.

spinning water

Fire Rainbow

A fire rainbow is an extremely rare phenomenon that occurs only when the sun is high allowing its light to pass through high-altitude cirrus clouds with a high content of ice crystals.

fire rainbow

Gravity Wave (clouds)

Gravity waves are waves in the sky not the water. These seldom seen gravity waves are caused when air is displaced in the vertical plain, usually as a result of updrafts coming off the mountains or during thunderstorms.

gravity wave


Virga is when ice crystals in clouds fall, but evaporate before hitting the ground. They appear as trails from clouds reaching for the surface, sometimes giving the cloud a jellyfish-like appearance.


Lenticular Clouds

Lenticular clouds are masses of cloud with strong internal uplift that can drive a motorless flyer to high elevations.Their shape is quite often mistaken for a mysterious flying object or the artificial cover for one.Generally, lenticular clouds are formed as wind speeds up while moving around a large land object such as a mountain.

lenticular clouds

Pyrocumulus Clouds

Procumulus Clouds are a heat related phenomenon, they form from the fast and intense heating of an area to create convecture, which in turn creates a cumulous cloud. Volcanoes, forest fires, and nuclear explosion (in the form of a mushroom cloud) are all prime causes of pyrocumulus clouds.


Colored Moons

Due to different atmospheric issues, the moon will occasionally appear tinged with a color, such as blue, orange, or red. Excess smoke, dust, and eclipses can cause the moon to change color.

colored moon

Blue Moon

We think of the blue moon as two moons occurring in one month. But the moon seldom actually looks blue. Forest fires and volcanic eruptions can shoot ash and soot into the atmosphere where it will mix with water droplets. This mixture can be carried by the wind thousands of miles around the world and sometimes refract light of the moon and make it look bluish.

blue moon

Other weather related events you may want to look up:

Other meteorological phenomenon is a weather event which can be explained by the principles of meteorology: (phenomina in Italics are listed above)

Air mass
Arctic cyclone
Crow Instability
Dust devil
Dust storm
Extratropical cyclone
Foehn wind
Ice pellets
Lake effect snow
Rain and snow mixed
Sleet; Ice pellets and Rain and snow mixed
Subtropical cyclone
Temperature inversion
Tropical storm
Weather front

Other unusual weather phenomena: (phenomina in Italics are listed above)

Diamond dust (a predominantly Polar phenomenon)
Light pillar
Morning glory cloud
Non-aqueous Rain (Raining animals)
Sun shower
Sun dog
Novaya Zemlya Effect

Weather Disasters:

There are many Natural Disasters caused by extreme weather such as Blizzards, Heat waves, Cyclones, Hurricanes, Tornadoes, Floods, Mdslides, Wildfires, Bushfires.

Natural Disasters non weather related but caused by other natural phenomenon. Natural Disasters include s the effect of a natural hazard such as a Volcano eruption, Tsunami, Earthquake that affects the environment

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