33 Facts About Storms That Will Make You Run for Cover
Mother Nature is the planet's most powerful super-villain.
As countless inaccurate weather reports have shown, storms are mysterious, unpredictable things. Most of us would probably have trouble identifying what exactly causes them, and even those whose full-time job is to predict them seem to have a tough time doing so.
In other words, just when we think we understand her, Mother Nature swoops in with a big surprise—one that’s often perplexing, terrifying, or even downright deadly. To that end, here are 33 interesting tidbits about downpours, cloudbursts, blizzards, deluges, tornadoes, hurricanes, and any other type of storm you—or Mother Nature—could possibly think of.
A 1995 Storm in Texas Had Hailstones as Big as Softballs
In 1995 a storm hit northern Texas which inflicted 70 mph winds and hail as big as softballs, killing at least 15 people and injuring more than 100. The storm caused extensive flooding, knocked out power to 16,800 customers and broke the windows of many buildings and cars. Within one hour, some roads in Fort Worth were buried under two feet of hailstones. Eleven people drowned while trying to escape flooded vehicles, including five people from one family.
One Blizzard in Iran Buried Entire Villages with No Survivors
The Iran Blizzard of 1972 is known as the deadliest blizzard in history. The storm lasted a full week from, February 3rd to 9th, and resulted in the deaths of approximately 4,000 people. Southern Iran received as much as 26 feet of snow, and about 200 villages were completely buried and wiped off the map, which resulted in no survivors in the outlying areas of the country which were hit the hardest.
Blood Red Rain Poured Down on India for a Summer
From July 25 through September 23, 2001, red-colored rain fell down on Kerala, India, and it baffled the entire world. A few days before the blood rain started, people reported a sudden flash of light and booming sound in the sky. People also said that trees shredded shrunken and wrinkled burnt leaves. After scientists studied this phenomenon, it was determined that there were red particles found in the rain, which were actually spores from lichen-forming alga.
A Heatwave in California Once Turned Grapes into Raisins
A heatwave hit northern California’s wine country in September 2017, during Labor Day Weekend, and straight-up turned grapes into raisins. As temperatures hit up to 109° Fahrenheit, the scorching heat evaporated water from the berries and shut down the vines’ entire metabolic process. It was estimated that wine vineyards lost up to 50 percent of their crop due to the unprecedented heat. Though September heat waves are not uncommon in California wine regions, for one to come that early in the month is highly unusual, and negatively affected several vineyards.
Once, Earth Got as Cold as Mars
The coldest temperature ever reported was in Antarctica on August 20, 2010. The temperature fell to -135.8°F, or -94.7°C. That’s almost 10 degrees colder than the previous record. As the temperature was captured by satellite, not thermostat, it wasn’t able to be included in the Guinness Book of World Records. According to an ice scientist who reported the temp, he said that it was more fitting for Mars than for one of Earth’s poles.
A Mudslide Can Move Entire Buildings
Landslides occur when masses of rock, earth, or debris move down a slope, and mudslides are a common type of landslide which moves at a very rapid pace. Mudslides usually start on steep slopes and can be activated by natural disasters, including wildfires or after heavy rains. In the United States, landslides, and mudslides result in 25 to 50 deaths each year, and can carry rocks, trees, vehicles, and even entire buildings.
America is the World’s Tornado Capital
The United States has more tornadoes than any other country. Oh, and they’re also stronger and more violent in America than anywhere else. The majority form in an area known as Tornado Alley, which includes Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, South Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado, North Dakota, and Minnesota. The United States averaged 1,274 tornadoes per year in the last decade, most of which happen in spring. (Tornados are least common in winter.) Worldwide, most tornadoes occur in the late afternoon, between 3:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m., and peak around 5:00 p.m.
Greenland is the Windiest Place on Earth
Specifically: Cape Farewell, Greenland, is the windiest place on the planet. According to a researcher who led an expedition there in 2007, the winds are so strong that that flying over the region is “stomach-churning.” According to satellite data, winds reach 44.7 mph 16 percent of the year and 29 percent of the winter. It is believed that these strong winds carried Viking explorers from Iceland and Greenland to North America, making them the first Europeans to discover the continent.
Mild Autumn Weather Leads to Bigger Spiders Indoors
When we have warm fall weather, you can expect to see more spiders around your home. Male spiders mature in mid-to-late summer, leave their webs or holes, and go looking for a mate. It’s during this search that you’re likely to see them crawling along our walls, windows, furniture, or floors. However, the warmer the fall season, the bigger the spiders get, because there is more prey available than usual. Insects thrive in warm conditions, and that’s what spiders feed on.
You Can Calculate How Far Away You are from Lightning
There’s a, well, lightning-quick way to figure how far away you are from a lightning strike. Just count the number of seconds that pass between a flash of lightning and the thunder that follows, then divide that number by five. The result equals how many miles away you are from where lightning just struck. This is called the “flash-to-bang” method. The National Weather Service recommends taking cover if the time between lightning and thunder is 30 seconds or less, which indicates that the lightning is 6 miles away or closer.
There’s Such a Thing as Water Tornadoes
Tornadic waterspouts are what they sound like, a tornado over a body of water. They generally begin over land in connection with a thunderstorm, then move out over the water. Just like tornadoes, they can be very destructive. Waterspouts occur most often in northern Michigan in August, September, and October, when the waters of the Great Lakes are at their warmest. They tend to last for two to 20 minutes and move at speeds of 10 to 15 knots.
A Sandstorm Once Buried a Force of 50,000
In 525 B.C.E., Cambyses, the son of Cyrus the Great, sent 50,000 soldiers from Thebes to attack the Oasis of Siwa and destroy the Oracle at the Temple of Amun after local priests refused to legitimize his claim to Egypt. After walking for seven days in the desert, the soldiers drowned in a sandstorm. In 2009, bronze weapons, a silver bracelet, an earring, and hundreds of human bones were found by archeologists in the vast desolate wilderness of the Sahara Desert, believed to have belonged to the missing Persian army.
Hurricane Andrew Lead to a Python Invasion in Florida
Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 hurricane, hit Southern Florida on August 23, 1992. Its fierce winds reached 150 miles per hour and demolished many buildings, including a breeding facility for Burmese pythons, and many of them escaped. As a result, today the Everglades are overrun with the giant snakes. Female pythons can lay up to 100 eggs a year, and reproduce rapidly. To help control the burgeoning python population, Florida residents are authorized to catch and kill them by almost any means necessary, with no permit required, especially on private lands.
Lightning Is Insanely Hot
The odds of being struck by lightning are incredibly slim, but people are more likely to die from lightning than other types of storm, not including hurricanes. Lightning strikes hundreds of people in the United States each year, and 10 percent of lightning deaths happen in Florida alone. A direct strike is deadly. At 50,000° Fahrenheit, a lightning bolt is five times hotter than the sun’s surface. There are about 55,000 lightning strikes a day in the States. Watch out!
The Eye of a Storm is Actually Calm and Sunny
The very center of a hurricane is called the “eye.” In the eye of a storm, the winds are calm, and it can feel like a peaceful, sunny day. The storm’s eye is roughly 20 to 40 miles in diameter. It is surrounded by the eyewall, a ring of towering thunderstorms where the most severe weather and highest winds occur. The hurricane’s lowest barometric pressure occurs in the eye and can be as much as 15 percent lower than the pressure outside the storm.
Aristotle Believed that Thunder Was Caused by Clouds Colliding
Legendary philosopher Aristotle believed that thunder and lightning were part of a “dry exhalation” from clouds. “If any of the dry exhalations are caught in the process as the air cools, it is squeezed out as the clouds contract, and collides in its rapid course with the neighboring clouds, and the sound of this collision is what we call thunder,” he said. He believed that lightning is the burning of this same exhalation.
There’s a Phobia of Lightning and Thunder
Astraphobia is the extreme fear of thunder and lightning. It’s not just children and adults who can suffer from this irrational fear, but it’s a common phobia that affects animals: It’s why dogs howl and hide when they hear thunder. A person who has astraphobia will frequently check weather forecasts and change their plans if a storm is coming. Like pets, people with astraphobia may even hide a closet to deal with their fear. Astraphobia can be treated through cognitive behavioral therapy.
One Tornado Has a Death Toll of Nearly 700
The Tri-State Tornado on March 18, 1925, was the deadliest tornado in U.S. history. It caused 695 deaths, more than twice the fatalities of the second deadliest tornado, which took place in Mississippi in 1840. The 151- to 235-mile track left by the tornado was the longest ever recorded in the world; it crossed from southeastern Missouri, through southern Illinois, then into southwestern Indiana. Though it was not officially rated at the time, it’s recognized today as an F5 tornado, the maximum damage rating issued on the Fujita scale.
Some Storms are More Powerful Than Atomic Bombs
Hurricanes are extremely powerful and are the equivalent to packing as much energy as five Hiroshima-type atomic bombs. Hurricanes get their power from the condensation of warm ocean water. Condensing moisture in a low-pressure region releases energy, which heats the air, then rises and pulls in more air from outside toward the center, creating a devastatingly powerful cycle.
A hurricane can continue for many days over open water, biding and building up power. Then, when it hits land, the lack of moisture and increased friction will slow it down a bit—but not before it can cause mass destruction and loss of life.
Bigger Cities Create Stronger Thunderstorms
Research has found that the extra heat generated around cities makes thunderstorms more intense. This is known as the Urban Heat Island effect. Heat from activities such as driving cars and the vast amount of heat-absorbing concrete in big cities leads to warmer air. This extra heat causes more hot and humid air rising to form clouds and thunderstorms. One study found that rainfall in Phoenix increased by 12 to 14 percent as the city’s population grew.
Yes, Lightning Can Strike the Same Place Twice
The phrase “lightning never strikes the same place twice” is a total myth. The reality is that lightning can and will strike the same place twice, whether during the same storm or centuries later. There is a significant attraction between the lightning bolt and the place it previously hit, so it’s more likely that it would be struck again. Skyscrapers like the Empire State Building are almost guaranteed to be struck by lightning each time a thunderstorm passes overhead. Luckily, such structures generally have built-in lightning rods to make sure no damage is done to the building.
The Majority of Americans Believe Global Warming is Real
According to a 2018 survey conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, 70 percent of Americans now accept that climate change is happening, which is a 5 percent increase from 2015. More than half the respondents (58 percent) said they understand that global warming is caused mostly by human activities. The survey also showed that more Americans are connecting global warming with extreme weather events, with 60 pecrent reported that they believe climate change is affecting the weather. And 40 percent said that they have personally experienced the effects of climate change.
It Can Rain Animals
“Raining animals” is a rare but real meteorological phenomenon when animals fall from the sky. But, before you let your imagination run wild, “raining cats and dogs” isn’t what happens. Instead, you’ll just get pummeled with fish and frogs.
Such occurrences have been reported in many countries throughout history. One hypothesis is that tornadic waterspouts can pick up small animals, such as fish or frogs, and carry them for several miles. Sometimes the animals survive, as witnesses have described them as startled but healthy, and showing normal behavior shortly after. In some incidents, the animals have been frozen or even completely encased in ice. There have also been cases where the rain consisted of shredded animal body parts.
Pine Cones Can Be Used to Forecast Rain
Pine cones open and close depending on the humidity to help their seeds disperse. Light seeds are contained inside the pine cone. When the weather is dry the pine cone opens up, so wind can catch the seeds and allow them to be dispersed in the air far away from the original tree. When humidity rises and rain is coming, the pine cone closes up to prevent the seeds from escaping and becoming waterlogged.
Lightning Struck and Killed an Entire Soccer Team But Left the Opposing Team Untouched
On October 28, 1998, a freak blast of lightning struck dead an entire soccer team in the African state of Congo during a match, while their opponents were left entirely unharmed. All 11 team members, aged between 20 and 35 years old, lost their lives, while members of the home team were untouched. Many soccer fans blamed witchcraft for the bizarre incident because, incidentally, the score was tied at the time of the deadly lightning strike.
Most U.S. Tornado Warning Are False Alarms
On average, 70 percent of tornado warnings issued in the U.S. are false alarms. This means only three in 10 tornado warnings contained a verified tornado within the warned area during the time of the notice. In an attempt to lessen this false alarm problem, lead times for tornado warnings have decreased from 13 to 14 minutes, at the beginning of the decade, to around 8 to 9 minutes in 2017. National Weather Service forecasters now tend to wait until a tornado has begun before issuing a warning.
One Hurricane Lasted an Entire Month
Hurricane John, also known as Typhoon John, was both the longest-lasting and the farthest-traveling cyclone ever recorded. John formed in 1994 and peaked as a Category 5 hurricane. John traveled 7,165 miles from the eastern Pacific to the western Pacific and back to the central Pacific, lasting 31 days in total. Despite enduring for a full month, John barely hit any land and only minimally affected the Hawaiian Islands and the U.S. military base on Johnston Atoll.
Tropical Storm Names are Determined Before Hurricane Season Even Begins
Tropical storms are given names from a pre-determined and pre-approved list by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). There is a naming system in place, where names can only be repeated after six years. However, if a storm causes large amounts of destruction, that name is retired permanently and a new name starting with that letter is added to the list. This system was invented to easily distinguish different storms happening at the same time in different parts of the world.
Once, Wind During an NFL Game Bent the Goal Posts
On December 28, 2008, a windstorm caused a lot of damage during a New England Patriots vs. Buffalo Bills game. Winds at 75 mph tore a strip off the Buffalo Bills’ practice field house across the parking lot from the stadium and tilted both goal posts inside the stadium. Work crews had to use ropes and a forklift to re-secure and re-center the goal posts, which shook heavily in the wind. The winds also tore off part of a goal post on the Bills’ outdoor practice field next to the field house.
It’s Only Snowed in Florida Once
January 19, 1977, goes down in history and the only time that Florida has ever received snow. The moment the stuff hit the ground, it quickly dissipated. Yet many residents of the Sunshine State remember it as a blizzard. When the snow started to fall, as far south as Homestead, thousands of residents ran outside to see and feel it. Some motorists pulled to the side of the road in wonder, and teachers allowed school children to go out and experience what it’s like to feel snowflakes on their faces.
Yes, There’s Such a Thing as “Thundersnow”
Thundersnow isn’t a spell from a fantasy novel. No, it’s a rare winter weather phenomenon that’s most common near large lakes. When relatively warm columns of air rise from the ground and form turbulent storm clouds in the sky in the winter, there’s potential for thundersnow. A few other factors are necessary for it to occur, including air that’s warmer than the cloud cover above it, and wind that pushes the warm air upwards. However, you may not even know thundersnow is happening, because lightning is harder to see in the winter and the snow can dampen the sound of thunder.
Cities Can Get Really Creative with Snow Disposal
After snow storms and blizzards, where does the snow go? Different cities employ various snow disposal methods. Many haul it away to parking lots or other wide-open spaces where it can sit until the weather warms up and it melts. During particularly snowy seasons, cities are sometimes forced to dump snow in the ocean. Some cities use snow melter machines, which use hot water to melt 30 to 50 tons of snow an hour. This method is quick but costly—a single machine can cost $200,000.
Most People Struck by Lightning Will Survive
About 2,000 people are killed around the world by lightning each year. However, hundreds more survive strikes but suffer from a variety of lasting complications, including memory loss, dizziness, weakness, numbness, and other life-altering ailments. Lightning strikes can cause cardiac arrest and severe burns, but the fact is, 9 of every 10 people survive. The average American has about a 1 in 5,000 chance of being struck by lightning during their lifetime. And for more mind-blowing facts, check out these 50 Facts So Crazy You Won’t Believe They’re Actually True.
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