Top 10 Recent Interesting Natural Phenomena And Hazards


Every year, various human activities and natural phenomena cause environmental disasters and substantial economic losses throughout the world.  Despite this dark side, there’s something fascinating about the power of nature and its impact.

Don’t expect to find the very popular Aurora Borealis or red tides listed here.  The goal of this list is to present some of the most interesting natural phenomena / hazards that occurred in 2011 and 2012, ones that are less known to the general public.

Criteria such as rarity and uniqueness were fundamental in determining the structure of this Top 10 list.  Everybody heard about the 8.9 magnitude earthquake that struck Japan on March 11, 2011, or about the East African drought, so here are other very interesting phenomena (from as many different countries as possible):

10.  Steaming Black Sea – Romania


Copyright Dan Cristian Mihailescu; Source: Facebook Profile of Mr. Dan Cristian Mihailescu

Sun-warmed, humid soil can steam, so may a lake, sea or ocean if the air above it is sufficiently cold. “In the latter case, the phenomenon is commonly termed steam fog (if it occurs over fresh water) or sea smoke (if it occurs over saline water)”, according to P. M. Saunders from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

This spectacular picture was taken some months ago in Romania, and captures the incredibly beautiful sea smoke over the Black Sea.  How Dan Cristian Mihailescu always happens to be in the right place at the right time with his camera amazes me.

9.  Bizarre Sounds Coming from the Frozen Black Sea – Ukraine

If you ever wondered how a frozen sea sounds like, here’s your answer!  It sounds like fingernails scratching against a blackboard.  The video was shot off the coast of Odessa, Ukraine.

There’s a strophe in S. T. Coleridge’s narrative poem, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” that perfectly captures the essence of this video:  The ice was here, the ice was there / The ice was all around / It cracked and growled, and roared and howled / Like noises in a swound!

8.  Spider Web Trees – Pakistan


Giant Spider Web

An unexpected side-effect of the massive flooding that swamped one-fifth of Pakistan was that millions of spiders turned trees into cocoons.  They crawled into trees to escape the rising flood waters.

The gigantic spider web found in Texas is an arachnophobe’s worst nightmare.  It covered 200 yards!!!  Despite the fact that spiders are cannibalistic and their webs are unconnected, specialists studied more than 240 specimens and identified 12 families of spiders in the huge web.  There is little consensus about what sparked this once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon.

7.  Fire Tornado – Brazil

A rare phenomenon known as a “fire tornado” has been caught on camera in Aracatuba, Brasil a couple of years ago.  The lethal combination of high temperatures, strong winds, and wildfires caused the vortex of fire.

One of the most extreme fire tornadoes occurred in Japan.  In 1923, the Great Kanto earthquake destroyed Tokyo, Yokohama and the surrounding areas.  Subsequent firestorms caused tremendous destruction.  The single greatest loss of life was caused by a huge fire whirl that killed 38,000 people in just fifteen minutes.

6.  Cappuccino Shores – Cleveleys, UK


Image Credits: and

In December 2011, the seaside resort of Cleveleys, Lancashire was blanketed with sea foam (first picture).  The second and the third pictures were shot in Cape Town, South Africa.

They may look like winter wonderlands, but the locals were anything but thrilled by the foam blown in off the Irish Sea.

According to specialists, the sea foam is made from fat molecules and proteins created by the breakdown of tiny sea creatures (phaeocystis).  They form dense colonies, and the cells are held together by a gelatinous mass.  The spume is formed when strong winds sweep up the decaying remains.  The compounds act as foaming agents.

5.  Snow In The Oldest Desert of the World – Desert of Namibia, Africa


Image Credits: Eric Husing from Namib Sky &

Snow in the dry lands of Namibia is not unheard of, but it is a rare event.  Statistics show that snow blankets the Namib Desert every ten years.

The rare June snow of 2011 fell during the day, from 11 o’clock in the morning until the afternoon.  Meteorologists said the lowest temperature recorded by weather stations on that day was -7, in the town of Otjozondjupa, one of Namibia’s thirteen regions.  Having endured arid conditions for over 50 million years, the Namib Desert is considered by specialists the world’s oldest desert.

4.  Maelstrom Near The Port Of Oarai – Japan


An incredibly vast whirlpool appeared off the east coast of Japan after the tsunami hit the country.  The vortex near the port of Oarai lasted several hours and happened “because of the interaction between rushing water and the geology of the coastline and seafloor,” said Ruth Ludwin of Maelstroms are a common feature of tsunamis.

Some of the most famous and powerful whirlpools are Moskstraumen (also known as the Lofoten Maelstrom), Saltstraumen, Corryvreckan and the Old Sow whirlpool.  Notable writers like Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne and Herman Melville described the Lofoten Maelstrom in their writings.

3.  Dramatic Waterspouts – Australia

Four tornadic waterspouts were captured on camera off Australia’s coast in May 2011.  The very interesting natural phenomenon created quite a stir with the locals, some of whom had lived in the region for over 45 years and had never seen a waterspout.  The four dramatic waterspouts reached heights of nearly 2,000 feet.

Waterspouts are generally classified into two categories: tornadic and fair-weather waterspouts.  Tornadic waterspouts begin as tornadoes over land and then move over a body of water.  Their size varies from several feet to more than a mile in height.  Waterspouts can be hundreds of feet wide.

2.  Massive Dust Storm – Phoenix, USA


This incredible picture shows the huge dust storm that swallowed up Phoenix in 2011.  The violent sandstorm – also known as haboob – originated in Tucson and appeared to be 50 miles wide in some areas.  The dust cloud reached heights of 10,000 feet before arriving in Phoenix.  It was caused by “the downdrafts of a collapsing thunderstorm complex generated by the Southwest monsoon,” wrote

Sandstorms are a common meteorological phenomenon in Arizona, but locals and researchers said the storm of July 5th was unusually intense.  The size of the storm, and the amount of dust it picked up, were extremely unusual.


1.  Volcanic Ash Blankets Lake Nahuel Huapi – Argentina

The violent eruption of the Puyehue volcano – near the city of Osorno, southern Chile – caused something quite incredible in Argentina.  Northeasterly winds blew the ash over neighboring Argentina, and some parts of Lake Nahuel Huapi were covered by a thick layer of volcanic ash.  Unlike the ash that remains after burning wood or other materials, volcanic ash is made of glass and rock particles, so it’s very abrasive and hard.  To make matters worse, it doesn’t even dissolve in water.

With a depth of 1,394 feet and a surface of 529 km2, Nahuel Huapi is Argentina’s deepest and largest clear water lake.  The lake stretches 100 km along the Chilean border.  I’m wondering if Nahuelito, a monster reported to live in this lake, is still ‘alive’ after this disaster…

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  1. I have lived in the Phoenix area for well over 30 years, the “great” dust storm mentioned as #2, usually happens at LEAST once a year. Not so unusual unless you’re new to the valley.

  2. Peter Boucher on

    I live just outside of Phoenix (about 25 miles north). I definitely remember # 2 on this list !!!

  3. I actually live 20 mins from avoca ( where the waterspout was). It was on the news on every channel, pretty amazing to see something like this down under!

  4. #7 – fire tornado. Those actually happen more frequently than you think. They happen a lot during wildfires.