Red sprites are weak, but massive red flashes in the sky that appear above active thunder storms. While people claimed to have seen things that were probably red sprites in the past, the documentation of these phenomena are still relatively new – the first accidental images of red sprites were captured in 1989. Part of the reason we learned about them so late is that they only last for a few milliseconds. One thing that at least makes them a little easier to trace is the fact that sprites rarely occur alone; there are usually clusters of three or more together at once.
Because the phenomena are still so new to scientists, there is no official explanation for the cause of these flashes. However, evidence suggests they tend to occur in decaying portions of storms and are somehow created by the discharge of positive energy created by large cloud-to-ground lightning rays.
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Blue jets are closely related to red sprites, as they are observed in many of the same storm settings. These phenomena are upward cones of bright blue light that appears to be coming out of the cloud above thunder storms. Similar to red sprites, they were not discovered until 1989.
Blue jets are not directly related to lightning like red sprites are and they are less common. They do seem to be more common in storms that involve hail. Scientists are still very unsure why blue jets occur, but they believe they are related to the collection or discharge of energy from lightning storms. The bright blue color is believed to be related to molecular nitrogen emissions when they collide with oxygen at a high speed.
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St. Elmo’s Fire
St. Elmo’s fire is a eerie, but beautiful phenomenon where luminous blue plasma shoots from the extremities of an object. It was most commonly seen on ships in the olden days, which is why it was named for St. Erasmus, the patron saint of sailors. Anything with a point may be subject to St. Elmo’s fire, including cattle horns.
The “fire” occurs when a grounded object is inside of an atmospheric electric field, usually in a thunderstorm. What you see is actually plasma created by a discharge of energy on the point.
Image Via Cop4cbtFire whirls are created by two distinct factors, either a tornado that spins too close to a forest fire, or a whirling vortex of flame occurring in an area due to too much heat in a close proximity. The image above shows an artificially created fire whirl. Some whirls reach over a half a mile high.
These whirls are, not surprisingly, extraordinarily dangerous. In the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake in Japan, a fire whirl was created in a massive firestorm. The whirl alone killed 38,000 people who were packed into an open space in the Former Army Clothing Depot during the earthquake.
Fire whirls are created when a warm updraft converges with the wildfire. Most fire whirls are between 30 and 200 feet tall and under 10 feet wide. They generally last no more than a few minutes, but some have lasted as long as 20.
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Image Via HanroanuWaterspouts look like mini-tornados made of water and they are always located below a cloud and above a body of water. While they seem to suck up liquid from the water they are located above, they are actually made of water droplets formed by condensation.
While there are occasionally strong water spouts, most are weak and caused by the clash of atmospheric dynamics forming a vortex. In most cases, waterspouts are created while the cloud they are attached to is still developing.
In one month of 2001, colored rain fell on the Kerala region of India. Most of the rains were red, but some where yellow, green or black. Many compared the red rain to blood, making it quite a terrifying spectacle for anyone superstitious. There have been stories about red rain sightings in the area as early as 1896, but none were so long-lasting or vivid as the 2001 downpour.
A number of theories spread about the cause of the colored rain, including its relation to aliens, before an official report concluded that the colors were caused by algae spores sucked into the atmosphere by a waterspout. There are a number of these algae species in the region, which could explain why the stories were so constant for the last hundred years.
Scientists believe those pesky waterspouts are responsible for one of the most bizarre weather experiences in the world, the dropping of animals from the sky. Many different animals have rained from the sky, including frogs, birds, bats, worms and fish. Some animals actually survive the process, but most die in the fall. In some cases, the animals actually freeze to death while in the clouds and dropped to the ground in an ice casing.
Waterspouts seem like the most likely causes of these events because the high-speed winds can lift animals into the air and carry them for lengthy distances. One thing that still baffles scientists though is why each incident only involves one specific species of animal, where in most cases a waterspout seems to be likely to suck up multiple similarly-sized animals in one area.
While this bizarre weather event is a rare occurrence in most places, it is actually common in Honduras, where the residents celebrate the yearly Lluvia de Peces (Rain of Fish). An even weirder aspect of this occurrence is the fact that the fish that are rained down do not live in the area at all. National Geographic researchers predict they live in underground water sources, but there is still no proof for this theory.
Birds and bats, of course, would be subject to a completely different process than the fish and frogs. In their case, it is most likely that the storm overtook them while in flight. Naturally, there is a lot less mystery and contention when it comes to these occurrences.
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Image Via Simon Goldenberg [Flickr]There were many times between 1813 and 1952 when London was overtaken with a thick, black fog. What made these fogs different than everyday fog most of us are familiar with is that in most instances, it actually killed people. The first event lasted for a week and visibility became so poor that even the most knowledgeable Londoners could no longer find their way through the city. In a 1873 black fog, the death rates in London were said to raise by 40%.
However, the real killer was the fog of January 26, 1880. The fog carried a thick mix of factory pollutants and coal smog that was heavy in sulfur dioxide. It stayed for three days and it is estimated that up to 12,000 people died from the fog. There were more fogs in following years that killed people, but it wasn’t til the fog of 1952 that killed 4,000 people until England finally took a stand to start fighting the pollution that made the fogs so deadly.
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