NewsNovember 7, 2014

Picture This: Holey Clouds, Fireballs & Fall in Full Force

By Andrea Thompson

Follow @AndreaTWeather

The week held some interesting sky surprises, in the form of strange-looking holes in the clouds and fireballs streaking through the night sky. A typhoon also reached ferocious strength, before weakening as it moved northward, where it will causes a chain reaction that affects the weather half a world away. And of course, we can't forget the beautiful colors of fall, in full swing across large parts of the eastern U.S. right now. Check out amazing images of all of these events here.

Hole in the Clouds

This pretty crazy looking cloud caused a ruckus in Victoria, Australia earlier this week, though it’s nothing to be alarmed about.

The stunning cloud that packs a punch, as viewed from Australia: (img JasonPrekop via YouTube)

— Capital Weather Gang (@capitalweather) November 4, 2014

Called a fallstreak hole or a hole punch cloud, the phenomenon is a gap that forms in high- to mid-level clouds like cirrocumulus or altocumulus. The clouds are composed of water droplets that are colder than the freezing point but haven’t yet frozen because they need something to freeze onto, namely ice crystals, according to the La Crosse, Wis., National Weather Service Office.

Sometimes an airplane flying through the cloud layer might introduce these ice crystals, but other times the droplets freeze into crystals on their own, according to the Cloud Appreciation Society. Either way, once the crystals are there, the water droplets quickly freeze and fall out of the cloud layer, leaving behind a hole that expands as neighboring drops freeze in a domino effect.

The rainbow colors seen in the middle of this and some other fallstreak holes are caused by the refraction of light by the ice crystals.

So if you ever see one of these bizarre-looking holes in the clouds, don’t worry, just snap a picture!

A Tale of a Typhoon and East Coast Weather

Following the pattern of a very active tropical cyclone season across the Pacific, Typhoon Nuri spun up on the morning of Oct. 31, and between Nov. 1 and 3, it rapidly ramped up into a Super Typhoon. At its peak strength, it had winds of 180 mph making it equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane. It tied Typhoon Vongfong as the strongest storm on the planet this year. NASA satellites snapped spectacular birds-eye images of the powerful storm:

On Nov. 4, 2014, the Suomi NPP satellite caught a view of then Super Typhoon Nuri at 1:42 a.m. local time, as the storm swirled to the south of Japan.
Click image to enlarge. Credit: NOAA/NASA


It skirted the main islands of Japan as it moved northeastward, making the transition to an extratropical cyclone late Nov. 6. Extratropical cyclones derive their energy from the temperature and moisture differences across frontal zones, whereas tropical cyclones get their power from convection fueled by warm, tropical ocean waters.

While Nuri weakened as it moved northward, it’s still expected to have major impact on the weather. It is forecast to strengthen again as it spins over the Bering Sea, possibly setting a record for the lowest pressure measured there according to the Capital Weather Gang.

That deepening will cause a strong high-pressure ridge to build over western North America, which — along with other atmospheric factors — will force an outbreak of frigid Arctic air over the eastern U.S. in the next week. A persistent ridge pattern this year has also contributed to what is virtually certain to be the warmest year on record in California.

Just goes to show how connected the atmosphere is!

Great Balls of Fire!

Because we can’t pass up an opportunity to point out amazing space weather, take a gander at this video of two fireballs spotted over parts of the eastern U.S. on Nov. 3.

Pre-election fireball dazzles sky watchers from Chicago to DC:

— Capital Weather Gang (@capitalweather) November 4, 2014

And yes, fireball is the technical term. It refers to any object streaking through the sky that is brighter than the planet Venus, according to

The two fireballs were caused by meteors burning up as they hurtled down through the atmosphere. Most meteors that fall to Earth are too tiny to be seen, about the size of pebbles. But some like these two, which were estimated to be about the size of a baseball, are big enough to cause a scene.

Fall in Full Swing

With winter just around the corner and the days growing ever shorter, the peak of fall foliage has enveloped much of the eastern U.S. The Suomi NPP satellite shows this shift as only a satellite can. With a set of images taken on Sept. 27 and Nov. 2 — the color difference is clear:

The Suomi NPP satellite snapped these two images of the Mid-Atlantic region on Sept. 27 (left) and Nov. 2 (right), showing the progression to the peak of fall foliage season.
Click image to enlarge. Credit: NOAA/NASA


The riot of fall colors is particularly clear in the diagonal lines created by the Appalachian Mountains, though areas north of Pennsylvania are largely past their peak. Foliage in Washington, D.C. is in high gear though, as seen in photos featured by the Capital Weather Gang:

Fall color in D.C. might be peaking, but leaves are dropping just as fast. Foliage photos!

— Capital Weather Gang (@capitalweather) November 5, 2014