This sure was a weird winter. We've been buried under record-breaking blizzards, and for the first time in recorded history, a whopping 49 states (all but Florida) had snow on the ground at the same time. But that's nothing. Here are some truly strange and striking meteorological and atmospheric phenomena.
Cross a wildfire with a tornado and you have the catastrophic "fire whirl." The strong temperature gradient created by fires--between the hot flame and the cooler air surrounding it--can create a vortex; if the air currents and wind conditions are just right, the fire can travel upward in a whirling column. Fire whirls can extend hundreds of feet into the air, uproot trees, and cause fatalities. (A fire whirl in Japan in 1923 killed 38,000 people in a matter of minutes.)
All text by Emily Anthes. Image: US Fish & Wildlife Service