Suspended high in the lowest layer of the Earth’s atmosphere, sun haloes appear when ice crystals reflect sunlight, creating an illusion of a ring around the sun. They can be seen anywhere in the world and, according to folklore, present a warning of a coming rain or snowstorm.
These devilish spinners, which look like mini tornadoes, form during windstorms in patches when the ground is intensely hot, pushing the air upwards in a vortex. They whip up dust – and any debris in their path – into whirling, swirling towers. They’re most common in arid desert areas, though are best viewed from a safe distance. However, they are a little less frightening than bugnados, where the ‘devils’ in question are actually buzzing, biting midges.
Squeezed between Earth and space about 37 miles (60km) above ground, these electric-blue clouds are a result of ice crystals reflecting sunlight after sunset. Noctilucent clouds – sometimes called 'night shining clouds' – only appear at latitudes between 45° and 80° north and south of the equator during local summer months. The rare spectacle occurs in places like Estonia, Finland and Sweden between May and August.
This beautiful phenomenon, which usually appears as a pinkish belt above a blue-tinted horizon, is actually the gap between the Earth’s shadow and the sky. The pink glow above the dark band of our planet's shadow is caused by the backscatter of red light from the rising or setting sun. Head to higher ground (or somewhere with unobscured views) in summer for the best chance of seeing it.
Also known as a blood moon, this blazing display happens during a total lunar eclipse. Although surrounded by many superstitions and prophecies, the red hue is actually due to the red edge of the Earth's shadow, which is reflected on the moon. It can be seen around the world, though the best places to view it include Alaska, the Hawaiian Islands and the west of the USA.
Although this terrifying tower of flames only lasts a few minutes, it can bring a lot of destruction with it. Caused by forest and bush fires or extreme droughts, these fire tornadoes occur when fire is whipped up by strong, dry air. California, New Zealand and Australia are especially prone to fire whirls during wildfires.
A generic term used for downslope winds, katabatic wind originates at high elevations of mountains, plateaus and hills, then flows down their slopes to the valleys or planes below due to changing pressure. Katabatic winds commonly occur in icy regions like Antarctica, Greenland and the fjords in Norway.
Film fans might recognize this phenomenon from Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. The optical illusion occurs before sunset or after sunrise and appears as a green spot above the sun, and it's gone in – well, a flash. Caused by light refracting in the atmosphere, it can be seen anywhere in the world but you’ll need a clear view of a distant horizon on a clear day.
Unique to Venezuela, this type of lightning can only be observed over the mouth of the Catatumbo River where it empties into Lake Maracaibo. It occurs approximately 260 nights a year, 10 hours per day and up to 280 times per hour. However, in 2010 it ceased from January to March due to a drought, leaving many in fear that the famous lightning might be extinguished permanently.
It takes a lot of weather and even more luck to create the ideal conditions for these dramatic giant icicles to form in the caves on Lake Superior’s shoreline. It needs to be blood-curdlingly cold, for a start, both for the icicles to form and for the lake’s ice to be thick enough to walk on safely – the caves are only accessible on foot.
Sunsets are super and sunrises (when you drag yourself up to see them) can be silencing, but the midnight sun is the most spectacular of both – all day long. It happens during summer when the Earth’s axis is tilted more towards the sun. It can be witnessed south of the Antarctic Circle and north of the Arctic Circle, such as the northern parts of Norway. The sky over the islands of Svalbard remains bright and blazing from late April until late August.
Also known as lunar rainbows, moonbows are the work of moonlight rather than sunlight. They're far rarer, fainter and smaller than their daytime equivalents. The perfect conditions to see a moonbow are during a full moon, around two to three hours after sunset, or before sunrise – and you're more likely to see one near a waterfall.
This weather occurrence resembles a row of giant, flour-dusted rolling pins. Each cloud can be more than 300 feet (91m) wide and stretch just over 400 miles (644km), from one side of the Gulf of Carpentaria in northern Australia to the other. It is the only known location in the world where these clouds can be predicted and observed on a more-or-less regular basis.
As rain or drizzle falls from a cloud and hits a streak of warm wind below it, it evaporates before hitting the ground and leaves visible streaks in the sky known as virga clouds. See it in western parts of the US and the Canadian Prairies, and in many parts of the Middle East, Australia and North Africa.
The mother of all storms, supercells are terrifying to encounter and highly dangerous. These massive thunderstorms contain a strong, persistent updraft called a mesocyclone, and although they can occur anywhere in the world, the Great Plains area in the USA – known as Tornado Alley – is particularly prone to supercells.
This natural phenomenon occasionally transforms the open sea and ocean shorelines into foam that resembles your frothy morning coffee. The foam consists of water impurities – mainly salts, chemicals, decomposed fish and dead plants – and is formed when powerful currents mix them up. It’s most likely to happen along rocky coastlines next to stormy seas or oceans, like the coast of San Francisco or the North Sea.
This isn't the newest flavor Krispy Kreme but a rare meteorological spectacle that occurs in specific weather conditions in mountainous areas. Unlike snowballs, snow donuts – sometimes called snow rollers – have a cylindrical shape because the weaker and thinner inner layers have been blown away by wind. Find these inedible donuts in any snow-covered mountain terrain, from the Rocky Mountains to the Giant Mountains in Czech Republic.
Found on young sea ice or thin lake ice in cold, calm conditions, these icy flowers form when the underlying water temperature is warmer than the air. Most commonly found in polar regions, some scientists have described Arctic frost flowers as ‘sea meadows’. The lakes in Hokkaido, Japan are famous for the spectacle.
Normal hailstones can seem apocalyptic and be pretty painful too. So imagine getting caught in a storm where some unseen god appears to be battering you with spheres of ice the size of golf balls! It can happen anywhere with the right (invariably cold) weather conditions, though the largest known hailstone – eight inches (20cm) in diameter and weighing close to two pounds (907g) – landed close to Vivian in the US state of South Dakota in 2010.
The aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, are perhaps the best-known (and most chased) of all the world’s weather phenomena. The sparkling swirls of eggplant, chartreuse and lilac happen when atoms are energized as they collide with the atmosphere. They’re best viewed in northernmost places on clear, inky dark winter nights. Finnish Lapland is among the best places to see the show, between late August and April.
This is the lesser-known but equally awe-inspiring cousin of the aurora borealis. The aurora australis, or Southern Lights, are caused by the same mixture of different gas molecules which, as they enter the Earth’s atmosphere, collide with solar winds, creating vivid shafts of curtains of light. As the name suggests, the spectacle is best observed in the world’s southernmost places, such as New Zealand, the Falkland Islands and Ushuaia in Argentina.
When the sun is near the horizon and wispy cirrus clouds are high in the sky, rays are deflected by minuscule ice crystals. This sometimes forms a halo but, when the shafts of light are vertically aligned, they create sundogs or ‘mock suns’ – spots of light flanking the real sun. They can happen anywhere in the right conditions. Moon dogs are a similar phenomenon, occurring on nights (obviously) when the moon is particularly bright.
The appearance of these unusual, distinctive clouds can vary from the classic protruding shape to a more elongated tube hanging off the cloud above. Normally associated with thunderstorms, these peculiar shapes are formed due to turbulence within the storm cloud, creating an uneven cloud base and can appear anywhere in the world.
Regularly mistaken for flying saucers, these lens-shaped clouds – which appear singular or stacked like pancakes – are very different from any other type of cloud because they don’t move. They can appear anywhere but are most commonly found in mountainous regions, and are avoided by pilots due to the heavy turbulence they can cause.
Just like steam coming off a hot bath, sea smoke is the rising warmth from the water below colder air. Often seen in the Arctic and Antarctic, sea smoke is usually quite low and ships can easily see over it. However, columns between 65 to 100 feet (19.8 to 30.5m) have been recorded in the past.
Scientifically known as a circumhorizontal arc, this phenomenon is extremely rare because it takes the right type of cloud, the sun shining at a certain angle and ice crystals aligned in a certain position for it to form. You’ll have the best chance of seeing this colorful phenomenon in the US, especially Los Angeles, where the sun is shining at the right angle for 670 hours between late March and late September.
Resembling the surface of the Moon in this aerial shot, the puzzling ice disk first appeared in a Maine river in 2019. Since then the spinning ice circle has returned to the Presumpscot River every year and continues to fascinate onlookers. According to science, the ice disk forms because the river's current and vortex under the ice cause the ice sheet to spin, forming a circle. Similar phenomenon has appeared on a river in Estonia in 2019 as well as in New York, USA and Quebec in Canada.