Mother Nature is unpredictable and our changing climate means we're now even more likely to see strange patterns in the weather. From a downpour-inspired phenomenon and frost in summer to random winter heatwaves and once-in-a-decade storms, we take a look at the world’s most freakish and out-of-season weather events.
Parts of the Caribbean and the US were shrouded in an enormous cloud of Sahara dust in June 2020 as the storm rolled across the Atlantic Ocean from the African desert. Pictured here is a lighthouse in Havana, Cuba at sunrise, cloaked in dust during the billowing storm. The highly concentrated air plume was nicknamed both the "Godzilla" and the "Gorilla" dust cloud and is the largest and densest storm to be seen in half a century.
Lightning strikes, India, 2020
India’s annual monsoon season began in a dramatic fashion in June 2020 with deadly lightning strikes and torrential rain. The weather killed at least 107 people in northern and eastern India. Officials from Bihar said it was one of the highest daily death tolls from lightning that the state had recorded in recent years.
Record heat and wildfires, Siberia, Russia, 2020
The Arctic is sweltering this year with many places within the Arctic Circle experiencing a prolonged heatwave. The worryingly high temperatures have caused ferocious wildfires in Siberia. Surface temperatures were abnormally high: 10°C (50°F) above average in northwest Siberia in May, according to the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S). It's not just the Arctic that's feeling the heat, either: 2020 is set to be one of three hottest years on record for the whole world.
Winter heatwave, Norway, 2020
Another usually cool part of the world that experienced unprecedented high temperatures in winter 2020 was Norway. A positively balmy 19°C (66°F) was measured in the village of Sunndalsøra in western Norway in early January, which is the country’s warmest January day since records began. It was the result of Foehn winds: warm gusts that occur on the downwind side of a mountain range. The local mayor told BBC reporters she had even been for a swim in the sea.
Summer heatwave, Svalbard, Norway, 2020
Summer 2020 also saw record high temperatures on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, located between mainland Norway and the North Pole. The islands would usually see temperatures of around 7°C (44.6°F) this time of year but on 25 July, a peak of 21.7°C (71°F) was recorded. There's just a tiny patch of snow left on the mountains in this photo. Take a look at the hottest places on Earth.
Heatwave, Antarctica, 2020
The coldest place on Earth has also experienced unprecedented high temperatures this year – it even reached the same temperature as Los Angeles, California on one day, according to NASA Earth Observatory. For the first time on record scientists registered a temperature of more than 20°C (68°F) – the high temperature was taken at Seymour Island on 9 February. While on 6 February, weather stations recorded the hottest temperature on record on the continental Antarctic peninsula: 18.3°C (64.9°F). The warm spell caused widespread melting on nearby glaciers.
Medicane, Greece, 2020
In September 2020, Cyclone Ianos swept across Greece, but this wasn't an ordinary storm. The rare medicane (Mediterranean hurricane) flooded streets, brought down power lines, and very sadly resulted in fatalities. Karditsa (pictured), north of Athens, was one of the worst-affected areas – it was hit by winds of up to 75mph (120kmph) and large parts of the city were underwater.
Freak storm, Western Australia, 2020
A once-in-a-decade storm hit the state of Western Australia in May 2020. The unusual weather was the result of ex-tropical Cyclone Mangga clashing with a cold front off Australia’s west coast. The wild weather system whipped up dust storms, brought torrential rain, and caused huge waves to pummel the coastline. It also outed power lines.
Summer snowfall, California, USA, 2019
Snow bunnies also enjoyed an extended ski season in California's Sierra Nevada in 2019 with a record spring snowfall. Skiers had great ski conditions as late as the month of July – pictured here are people enjoying an Independence Day (4 July) spent on the slopes in the Mammoth Lakes resort. Check out these mind-blowing weather facts you probably didn't know.
Winter wildfires, Yorkshire, UK, 2019
An unseasonably warm spell and dry winter saw a parched Saddleworth Moor in West Yorkshire become a raging inferno in February 2019. This was the same month that registered the UK’s hottest winter day on record: a temperature of 21.2°C (70.2°F) was recorded in Kew Gardens, southwest London.
Hailstorm, Guadalajara, Mexico, 2019
A steamy Mexican summer's day was in full swing in the populous city of Guadalajara when a freak hailstorm left parts of the city buried under more than 5ft 10in (1.5m) of ice in 2019. Vehicles were submerged, hundreds of homes and commercial properties were damaged and trees were felled by the battering hail. The devastating aftermath can be seen in this bird's-eye photo that was captured at the end of June.
Floods, Paraguay, 2019
Unusually heavy downpours caused the Paraguay River to overflow during the months of May and June 2019, killing at least 16 people and displacing tens of thousands from their homes. The river’s water levels reached a staggering 22ft 1in (6.75m) when its normal level is around just 13ft (4m).
Snowfall in desert, Algeria, 2018
Despite it reaching chilly temperatures at night, snow in the Sahara Desert is very rare. In fact, it snowed there for only the fourth time in 40 years during the January of 2018. The rare weather event happened near the Algerian town of Aïn Séfra and saw the region's renowned desert dunes covered in a deep layer of perfectly white snow. A truly extraordinary sight.
High water, Venice, 2020
The sight of Venice’s streets submerged is not uncommon with the acqua alta (high water) part of life for the ancient canal city. But the phenomenon is unusual during the summer months. Pictured here is St Mark’s square in June 2020 after an unusually high late spring tide. The water level reached to around 3ft 10in (1.2m). It was due to the high tide combined with a storm in the Atlantic, which brought heavy winds and rain to northern Italy.
Snowfall, Texas, USA, 2020
Although snow is rare in the southern states of the USA, it’s not unheard of, and in February 2020 there were flurries in Austin, Texas. Pictured here is the Big Bend National Park in southwest Texas after a snowstorm – snowfalls occur once or twice during an average winter in the park, usually at elevations of 3,500 feet (1,067m) and upwards. Amarillo, located in the Texas Panhandle, receives an average of 17.8 inches (45cm) of snow during the course of the year.
Snow, Mediterranean, 2018
A vicious snowstorm in the early months of 2018 – nicknamed the Beast from the East – sent temperatures plunging and brought snow and icy conditions across Europe. Locals in Rome and the southern Italian city of Naples, who are particularly used to mild wet winters and scorching summers, shivered along with the rest of the continent, as the blast of Siberian weather brought the biggest snowfall in half a century. The unusually heavy snow covered the city's streets and beaches and also cloaked nearby Mount Vesuvius and the ruins of Pompeii.
Freak hail storm, Canberra, Australia, 2020
Golf ball-sized hailstones hammered Australia’s capital, including its parliament building (pictured), and the southeast in a bizarre summer storm in January 2020. The wild weather, caused by two supercell thunderstorms, smashed car windscreens, and felled trees as hail, lightning, and heavy rain hit cities and towns across the east coast too.
Tornadoes, Massachusetts, USA, 2019
Of the 1,253 tornadoes that the United States has on average each year, Massachusetts sees only one, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But in July 2019, Barnstable, Yarmouth, and Harwich in Cape Cod were walloped with three separate twisters with wind speeds of up to 110mph (177km/h). Prior to this only three tornadoes have ever been recorded on the pretty peninsula.
Heavy spring snow, UK, 2018
Instead of green fields, gamboling lambs, and unfurling flowers, the first day of spring brought heavy snow to much of the UK in March 2018. The UK shivered from late February and into March as very low temperatures, blizzards, and biting winds swept much of the country during a spell of unusually severe winter weather. Nicknamed the Beast from the East, the weather event meant that parts of a normally milder southeast England were colder than the North Pole.
Hail storm, Calgary, Canada, 2020
Summery scenes swiftly became wintry ones in Calgary, Alberta, as huge hailstones pounded the city and covered its streets in white ice in June 2020. The hail, which is formed in the core of a thunderstorm, is not all that unusual, but this storm was particularly vicious and inflicted substantial damage.
Cold snap, Florida, USA, 2020
When unusually cold weather struck Florida last winter, it affected more than the human population. The National Weather Service issued a warning that frozen iguanas could shower the streets and green spaces of south Florida as temperatures dropped to lower than usual levels in late January. Once temperatures sink to around 4.44°C (40°F) cold-blooded iguanas become immobilised, lose their grip and slip from trees. While the chilled critters may appear lifeless, they’re not actually dead.
Bomb cyclone, Newfoundland, Canada, 2020
Snow is par for the course in Canada’s Newfoundland, but not quite at the level that capital St. John's saw this January. A bomb cyclone brought high winds and dumped 2ft 6in (0.7m) of snow in what was its highest daily snowfall on record. The wind gusts caused dramatic snowdrifts that buried cars, blocked roads, downed power lines, and even caused a small avalanche to breach the wall of one home.
Rainfall, Atacama Desert, Chile, 2017
As the driest place on Earth, the sight of rain in the Atacama Desert is extremely rare. However, when rain fell in 2017 and formed lagoons in the parched Chilean landscape, it didn't bring the life and colour you might expect. In fact, a team of planetary astrobiologists found that the heavy precipitation actually wiped out most of the microbes that had lived there as they had adapted to the extremely arid conditions.
Late spring snow, Japan, 2020
The rare but pretty sight of spring cherry blossom dusted with snow greeted people in Tokyo this year. The capital had an unusually late and significant snowfall towards the end of March due to low pressure off the coast. Conversely, the cherry blossom season started in the Japanese capital on 14 March, the earliest on record.
Summer storm, Genoa, Italy, 2018
A sudden and violent thunderstorm swept into the northern port city of Genoa in August 2018 and may have contributed to the tragic collapse of the Morandi Bridge. Vehicles were plunged down into the valley below as a huge section of the structurally unsound bridge (as it was later discovered to be) crumpled during the severe weather, leading to 43 deaths and destroying apartments and homes. A new bridge, designed by architect Renzo Piano, has recently opened.
Volcanic lightning, Philippines, 2020
Foreboding volcanic lightning struck as a column of ash burst into the sky from the crater of Taal Volcano, which erupted on 12 January 2020. The dramatic light display formed in the volcanic plume – the cylinder-shaped column of volcanic ash that's emitted by some erupting volcanoes. Taal is the Philippines’ second most active volcano and it sits at the centre of Lake Taal, which was created by prehistoric eruptions – thousands of people were evacuated as the ash clouds descended.
Snow, Tunisia, 2019
Parts of the Middle East and North Africa experienced a freezing plunge in temperature in January 2019. Tunisia in particular was hit by heavy snow and torrential rainfall, causing some fatalities. While snow is not completely unusual in the country, these storms were particularly severe. This photo shows residents in the Tunisian region of Maktar making their way through the snow on 25 January.
Hurricane, Halkidiki, Greece, 2019
A dreamy summer day turned into a nightmare at the northern Greece peninsula of Halkidiki in July 2019, when unexpected gale-force winds, rain, and freak hail storms struck the popular seaside region. The severe storms saw a state of emergency declared in Halkidiki and resulted in a few fatalities, many injuries, power cuts, and extensive damage to properties. The intense winds, combined with high temperatures, also fanned large wildfires in southern Greece.
Snowstorms, South Africa, 2018
Freak winter storms hit South Africa’s savannahs in September 2018. Unusually thick flurries of snow fell across parts of South Africa's Eastern Cape, giving animals such as giraffes, elephants, and antelope a cold shock. While snow often falls on mountain ranges, it is unusual for snow to settle on savannahs, but the late cold front brought unprecedented snowfall to unusual parts of the country.
Snow, Australia, 2019
Australia’s wildlife was in for a shock in June 2019 when freezing winter conditions swept across its eastern states, causing the rare sight of snow in some places. While elevated parts of New South Wales and Victoria are not total strangers to the white stuff, Queensland (also known as the Sunshine State) certainly is. It was one of the coldest outbreaks to hit Australia in recent years.
Wildfires, San Francisco, USA, 2020
Millions of acres across California and Oregon have been devastated by wildfires that have burned throughout September 2020. Scientists say the region's fires are the worst in 18 years, linking their intensity to climate change. A combination of record-breaking temperatures, dry air, and strong winds only fuelled them. The wildfires caused apocalyptic skies across the West Coast, as seen here in San Francisco.
Snowstorm, Las Vegas, USA, 2019
A cold front blanketed the streets and high-rises of Las Vegas, along with surrounding mountains and desert in Nevada, in February 2019. The winter snowstorm covered the runways of Las Vegas’ airport with a rare 0.8 inches (2cm) of snow, causing cancellations and delays. Nearby Lee Canyon (or Mount Charleston), a small resort popular for skiing, snowshoeing, and tubing around 45 minutes from Sin City, recorded more than 12 inches (30cm) of the white stuff.
Dust, Europe, 2021
If you look carefully at this picture (top tip: open in Full Screen) you'll see there's something highly unusual about this ski resort in the tiny principality of Andorra – a brown tinge to the snow. Thanks to an exceptional weather phenomenon on 6 February 2021 parts of southern Europe, including the Pyrenees mountains, were covered in dust from the Sahara desert that was swept across the Mediterranean by a powerful flow of air from the south. The meteorological conditions might have prevented any downhill skiing but they did create an atmospheric light, with places such as Le Vallée de Chamonix and Lyon in France also bearing witness to the foreboding yet pretty orange sky.
Rainfall, Greenland, 2021
The first rainfall on the summit of Greenland's ice cap in recorded history shocked scientists at the US National Science Foundation's summit station on 14 August. Usually, temperatures on the 10,551-foot (3,216m) peak are well below freezing so the station is not equipped with any tools to measure rainfall. The unexpected weather event happened during three exceptionally hot days when temperatures in Greenland were 18ºC (64ºF) higher than average. Scientists say this is another stark sign of the climate crisis.
Horsetail Fall's Firefall re-ignites, California, USA, 2021
Thanks to record rainfall in Yosemite Valley, California, at the end of October, Horsetail Fall on the east face of El Capitan sprung into life eight months later than expected. The seasonal waterfall usually flows on clear evenings in late February, when the sun shines on the ribbon of water at just the right angle, resulting in a molten lava-like cascade. Nicknamed 'Firefall', the event draws big crowds who flock to witness the phenomenon. However, due to severe storms that swept through the area recently, only a few lucky hikers experienced the glorious glow out of the season.