Storm Clouds Crawling With Bacteria
Jim Reed, Corbis
Hailstorms are sometimes followed by low-lying fog due to the hail decreasing the surface air temperature to its dew point. Here, sunshine, fog, hail and storm clouds paint a portrait of mixed severe weather over Trego County, Kansas.
May 15, 2012, Ormond Beach, Florida. Photo by
Oct. 2, 2012 --
NASA's Global Precipitation Measurement satellite mission is working to understanding extreme weather with photos of rain and snow worldwide every three hours. But how do these storms look on the ground? NASA's GPM extreme weather photo contest highlights the beauty and ferocity seen first hand from storm-chasers before they duck for cover. Here are NASA's top five picks from over 100 submissions. This photo by Jason Weingart, a photography student at the University of Central Florida, shows a Volusia County lifeguard signaling to surfers at Ormond Beach, Fla., that it is time to exit the water. "The storm actually pushed back on shore as it moved south, and then became strong enough for tornado warnings on three separate occasions. I saw a large wall cloud, another spectacular shelf cloud, and some very tight rotation in the couple hours I stuck with the storm after I left the beach in Ormond," wrote Weingart. NASA Fun Fact: "A shelf cloud is a type of arcus cloud with a wedge shape. It is a low level, horizontal cloud formation usually associated with the leading edge of thunderstorms. The leading (outer) part of the shelf cloud appears smooth due to rising cloud motions, while the underside often appears jagged and wind-torn."
May 22, 2011 Dane County, Wisconsin. Photo by
Atmospheric scientist Grant Petty of the University of Wisconsin - Madison, was with a photography club on a farm in Dane County when he saw this thunderstorm building several miles to the east. "The storm cell dropped 1-3/4 inch hail near Sun Prairie. Fall streaks barely visible under the right side of the anvil may in fact be the falling hail,” he said.
PHOTOS: Sun Dogs, Halos, and Double Rainbows
July 5, 2011 Maricopa, Arizona. Photo by Megg
“This photo was taken in a wash that runs through my neighborhood in Maricopa, AZ. The wash runs north/south through the neighborhood and the haboob (type of intense dust storm) was rolling in from the east," reported photographer Meggan Wood. "I saw the wall of dust coming and quickly drove to the wash to get a good wide-open view of the height of the dust looming over the houses. I barely had time to get back to my car before it hit and I was engulfed! The darkness was surprising but it only lasted about 10-15 minutes before it thinned out enough to where I could drive back home, only about 2 minutes away. This was the giant haboob that made national news when it rolled through and entirely covered all of Phoenix and some surrounding cities. Maricopa is about a half-hour drive south of the Phoenix Sky Harbor airport."
PHOTOS: After the Dust Settles
September 1, 2012 Arlington, Virginia, lookin
Journalist Brian Allen with the Voice of America was at home in Arlington, Va., when this storm rolled over Washington. "The storm that blew through started off with an incredible amount of lightning and then dumped a significant amount of rain in a short amount of time -- on the other side of the river. DC got drenched and Arlington didn't see a drop,” he reported.
NEWS: Lightning Still Largely a Mystery
May 30, 2012 Kechi, Kansas. Photo by Brian Jo
Writer and photographer Brian Johnson is a also an avid storm-chaser for several Kansas radio stations. “As a large squall line moved through the area. The National Weather Service had warned about a large scale Derecho forming and moving through," he wrote. "This spawned a couple brief severe thunderstorms that dumped hail on rush hour traffic before the main line moved in. As the bigger storm moved into the Wichita area, reports were coming in of 70 mph winds and hail. There is an open farm field roughly two miles from my house that I shot lightning on the previous night. I sat there for about 20 minutes before this large squall line pushed through the clouds. I was hit with a pretty good gust front as it got closer, but as the winds increased, I decided to get to shelter. This photo was one of the last ones I took." Read more about Johnson's storm-chasing adventure here:
NEWS: Photos Catch Monster Storm's Approach: Big Pics
PHOTOS: Twilight: 15 Reasons to Watch
The storm clouds in Earth's atmosphere are filled with microbial life, according to a new study.
The research, published yesterday (Jan. 23) in the journal PLoS One, revealed that hailstones drawn from storm clouds harbor several species of bacteria that tend to reside on plants, as well as thousands of organic compounds normally found in soil. Some of the bacterial species can seed the tiny ice crystals that lead to rain, suggesting they play a role in causing rain.
"Those storm clouds are quite violent phenomena," said study co-author Tina Santl Temkiv, an environmental chemist at Aarhus University in Denmark. "They are sucking huge amounts of air from under the clouds, and that's how the bacteria probably got into the cloud."
Living on a cloud
In the past, researchers have found bacterial life in clouds that drift over mountaintops. Bacteria have been found as far up as 24.8 miles (40 kilometers) and may even survive as spores into space, Temkiv said. (Holey Clouds: Gallery of Formations Cut By Airplanes)
Temkiv and her colleagues wanted to see if bacteria lived in the violent storm clouds that hover above the Earth's surface. To find out, they studied 42 hailstones that had formed in a thunderstorm over Ljubljana, Slovenia, in May 2009.
After carefully removing the outer layer and sterilizing the hailstone, they analyzed its chemical composition.
The team found thousands of organic, or carbon-containing, compounds — nearly as many as found in a typical river, Temkiv said. In addition, they found several species of bacteria that normally live on plants. Some of the bacteria make a pinkish pigment that allows them to withstand the punishing ultraviolet rays in the atmosphere.
Some of bacteria found are ice-nucleators, meaning they can act as seeds for ice crystals to attach to in the clouds above Earth. When these same ice crystals get large enough, they fall as rain or snow, depending on the air temperature.
The findings suggest that bacteria could influence weather patterns, possibly making rain, Temkiv said.
"They may be growing in clouds, increasing in number and then modifying the chemistry in the cloud but also in the atmosphere indirectly," she told LiveScience.
The researchers think the bacteria come from the air hovering just above Earth that gets swept into the storm clouds through updrafts. That would suggest the atmosphere is a thread that can connect distant ecosystems, and that certain bacteria may be better at colonizing faraway environments, Pierre Amato, a researcher at France's Blaise Pascal University who was not involved in the study, wrote in an email.
"Clouds can be thought of as transient ecosystems selecting for certain [types of bacteria] that are better fitted than others, and that can thus quickly disperse over the globe," Amato said. "Understanding how microbes disperse is relevant, of course, for epidemiology, and also for microbial ecology."
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The World's Weirdest Weather
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