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The Top 12 Most Unusual Weather-related Photographs

By: Christopher C. Burt, 8:37 PM GMT on October 19, 2012

The Top 12 Most Unusual Weather-related Photographs

It’s been a relatively slow week weather-wise so I thought I’d take this opportunity to showcase some of the most unusual photographs ever taken of weather events. The selection is not a collection of the most beautiful (four of them are black and white) or spectacular weather images but rather a selection of very rare photographs mostly taken by amateurs that happened to be in the right place at the right time. Even professional weather photographers could probably never replicate most of them. Here they are in no particular order.

1. This is an image no one would be happy to replicate. Two seconds after Mary McQuilken snapped this shot of her brothers posing on top of Moro Rock in Sequoia National Park, California a powerful lightning bolt struck them. A hiker just outside the frame was killed and Sean (on the left) eventually also died from complications associated with his injuries. Michael McQuilken (on the right) survived. The family was hiking in the Sierra Nevada during August 1975 when the incident occurred. Photo by Mary McQuilken.

2. There have been thousands of fantastic tornado photographs and videos but none quite like this one. It is the nonchalance of Audra Thomas as an F1 tornado swirls a mile away towards her family farm (in the background) that makes it so unusual. She looks like she was posing in front of the Statue of Liberty or such. In fact, the tornado did cut across the farm and destroyed a barn structure on the property. The scene took place south of Beaver City, Nebraska in April 1989. Photo by Audra’s mother, Marrilee Thomas.

3. Not one, not two, not three, but FOUR waterspouts churn simultaneously in the Mediterranean Sea near Cyprus in this extraordinary image! I don’t ever recall a photo or video showing more than three funnels in formation at the same time. I have not been able to find much information about this event (date or specific location). Photo by Roberto Giudice.

4. Photos of individual hailstones tend to be pretty boring, even if they are monsters like the Vivian, South Dakota 7” record-holder. Unfortunately, no one seems to have ever bothered to take a good photograph of the landscape littered with, say 5-7” diameter, hailstones before. There have, however, been several fascinating images of great hail accumulations but none that can beat this. Here hail cliffs some 15 feet high were formed in a wash near Clayton, New Mexico following a hailstorm on August 13, 2004. The hail was swept into the creek by heavy rain and backed up behind a clogged culvert. This photo was taken, I believe, the following day after the creek cut a path through the hail accumulation. The banks of hail resemble a glacier front!. Photo by Barbara Podzemny.

5. The ‘pole of cold’ region in northeastern Siberia is the coldest permanently inhabited place on earth, especially the region centered around Oymyakon and Verkhoyansk where January temperatures average around -65°F. During the Soviet era children underwent ultraviolet treatment to make up for the long, dark, and cold Siberian winters with the consequent lack of sunlight. I am not sure if this practice is still in use. Photo by professional photographer Mark S. Wexler.

6. This macabre photograph was taken in a cemetery in northwest Arkansas following a devastating ice storm on January 27-28, 2009. The ice accumulated up to 1-2” thick on most surfaces. The crushed trees in the background, the Washington Monument-like obelisk, and the colorful flower offerings all come together to create an image that is not only awesome but also fraught with iconic symbols. Photo by professional photographer Mike Hollingshead.

7. Snow rollers are very rare phenomena that only occur when the weather conditions are just right: fresh sticky snowfall (not to wet and not to dry), high winds, and a large open space for them to form (not necessarily on a hill like above). Although there are many fairly decent photographs of large snow rollers (they have been known to grow up to 4 feet in diameter) nobody aside from Mr. Hagerman seems to have had the presence of mind to place a human in the image to give it perspective. These giant snow rollers formed in Vermont’s Lamoille River Valley in February 1973. Photo by Ronald L. Hagerman.

8. While I’m on the subject of snow, I couldn’t resist to include this unique photograph. The Great Blizzard of January 1977 in the Buffalo, New York region was so intense that wind gusts up to hurricane speed smashed windows in homes allowing the up to 70” of snow accumulations and drifts 20 to 30 feet deep to penetrate into the living spaces of unfortunate victims of the storm. The blizzard and the entire winter of 1976-1977 were so extreme that some climate scientists at the time believed it was the beginning of a new ‘Little Ice Age’. Photographs like this helped reinforce that idea. Photo by Dino Innandrea and first reproduced in a book about the ‘Buffalo Blizzard’ titled ‘White Death’ by Erno Rossi.

9. Time for a couple of extraordinary cloud formation images. This one is of a twin lenticular cloud formation over peaks in the Omataco Mountains near Otjiwarongo, Namibia in Africa. The event occurred in February 2004. Although there are many fantastic lenticular cloud photos around (some much prettier than this one), I can’t recall ever seeing a photo of two side-by-side peaks experiencing almost identical clouds forming simultaneously. Photo by Viveca Venegas.

10. Like lenticular clouds, there have also been many thousands of extraordinary photos of super cell or other thunderstorm-related cloud formations. However, this particular image takes the cake in my opinion. It is of a super cell that formed over southern Nebraska in June 2011. As photographer Mike Hollingshead said “At times this storm looked like a giant tsunami in the sky.”. Photo by Mike Hollingshead. You may have noticed that two of the images in this blog collection were by Mike Hollingshead. Mike recently had the tornado cover shot in the September 2012 issue of National Geographic magazine. To view more of his amazing work see his web site.

11. Birds at sea sometimes become trapped in the eye of a hurricane or typhoon and seek refuge on the decks of passing ships that are also in the eye of the storm. This is what happened in the case above when, in August 1926, the S.S. West Quechee sailed through a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. I know of no other photograph of this phenomenon. Photographer unknown. Image from Ivan Ray Tannehill’s classic ‘Hurricanes: Their Nature and History’, Princeton Univ. Press, 1938.

12. Perhaps a strange choice to finish with, but it is interesting for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, the photograph was taken in Lincoln, Nebraska on the night of July 25, 1936 when the minimum temperature fell to only 91°F in Lincoln. This was the hottest night ever experienced anywhere in United States recorded history outside of the desert Southwest (although a minimum of 92° was reported at Leavenworth, Kansas on August 10, 1934 but is suspicious). As the day progressed the temperature rose to an all-time record of 115°F in Lincoln. The second reason the photo is interesting is that, without air-conditioning, people spent the night sleeping on the lawn of the state capital building in Lincoln. This is a sight not likely ever to be seen again in the United States—at least due to a weather condition. Photographer unknown. Image from the Nebraska State Historical Society.

BTW: The wunderground.com community has posted hundreds of thousands of amazing photographs over the years on our web site and so, to make my dozen selections a ‘baker’s dozen’ here is my favorite yet posted:

13. It gets cold in Fairbanks, Alaska every year but last January (2012) saw temps fall to -50°F officially in the city and wunderground photographer Terezka Sunshine posted this joyful image on January 29th. Fairbanks has seen temperatures as low as -66°F (on January 14, 1934) but it may take some time before this jump can be captured at an even colder temperature again. Photo by Terezka Sunshine.

P.S. The one rarest of all weather phenomena that has NEVER been reliably photographed is ball lightning. Science knows this event does occur, there are many reliable eyewitness accounts. However, the numerous existing images purporting to be ball lightning are, without exception, unverifiable and easy to explain as the result of camera optics, fireworks, or hoaxes. Like my first image of the boys about to be struck by lightning, most ball lightning events occur over a matter of seconds so it is an event that could only be captured by pure chance. The best hope is that a surveillance video camera may some day capture this uber-rare event.

NOTE: Many of the photographs above can be found in my book which is still available on Amazon.com. However, the book is now out of print and the remaining copies are about to be pulped by my publisher. So if you would like a copy, order soon!

KUDOS: To all the photographers that had the presence of mind to capture these unique images.

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian

Extreme Weather Photography

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

What fascinating pictures!

Thank you for the heads up on your book. I will get one!

Update - I just ordered your book. Thanks!
Wow - what a collection! From heartbreaking to hilarious – and i have NEVER seen such an amazing waterspout picture! Thanks for posting. More, please.
The first one has me in awe. It's such a terrible thing.

Thanks for the amazing pictures.
In the first photo you mention that Sean died. When did he die? You didn't mention that in your book in 2007 or in an earlier post this past June. Everything I read before said he suffered only mild injury from the lightning strike. Thanks for any additional info.
A mind blowingly awesome emotional collection of unique and inspiring weather phenomenon photographed.

Very moving in so many different ways.

Chris. You have made my day. Thanks you and keep the wonderful wunderground posts coming~!
Chris - Re the shot of the waterspouts.... As far as I remember, a book called The Elements Rage, published in the 1960s, included a pic of several small tornadoes hanging from a cloud over Vietnam. It was at least three, from memory....
Quoting FormerAussie:
Chris - Re the shot of the waterspouts.... As far as I remember, a book called The Elements Rage, published in the 1960s, included a pic of several small tornadoes hanging from a cloud over Vietnam. It was at least three, from memory....

'Elements Rage' by Frank Laneis one of my favorite weather books! However, the photo you refer to isn't in it. I have seen several photos of three tornados on the ground simultaneously (in Texas not so long ago) but never four so far.
First photo made me sad.....
Quoting mobal:
First photo made me sad.....

Me also. It might be a 'cool' photograph but there is a real tragedy behind it.

Extreme weather events can be 'awesome and beautiful' events but they are also deadly and many lives are adversely affected in all corners of the world by such every day.
P.S. Mobal

One thing for sure is to not take thunderstorms lightly. Lightning kills hundreds of people every year around the world. If this photograph can help remind people that taking cover during a thunderstorm is a lesson to be learned then Sean did not die in vain.
weatherhistorian has created a new entry.
regarding photo #1 and your comment...:

Quoting 4. jnm12:
In the first photo you mention that Sean died. When did he die? You didn't mention that in your book in 2007 or in an earlier post this past June. Everything I read before said he suffered only mild injury from the lightning strike. Thanks for any additional info.

...that is correct, checkout: hoax or fact report of two brothers posing before lightening strikes them
I was stationed at Fort Wainwright, Fairbanks, Alaska from August 1967 through February 1969. The winter of 68-69 was particularly cold. I worked at various Nike missile sites near Fairbanks, and a lot of the work, on the launchers, was outside. It was routine that winter to see temperatures well below zero, regularly in the -40 to -50 range. Once during that winter a bank in downtown Fairbanks, which a had a thermometer on their sign read -70. I doubt it was accurate, but at the time I thought, if the temperature went up 100 degrees it would still be below freezing!

Being there two winters was quite an experience.