Top 10 weird weather and science words and phrases


With so many communication networks and social media channels, you hear so many more science and weather words than ever before. You might wonder which are based on science and which are misleading. Some just sound weird.

Polar Vortex is a real weather term that’s been used by meteorologists for dozens of years, since way before the Internet. It’s a band of very high wind that encircles the poles, way above the ground and it locks polar air in place. When it meanders in the northern hemisphere, it allows polar air to move toward the equator creating what we’ve always called arctic outbreaks or polar plunges.

Haboob is a real word, with Arabic origins, that’s been used for centuries in the Middle East. It’s simply a large sand storm or dust storm. They are common in the Southwestern US deserts.

Superstorm has no single scientific definition so it’s often the opinion of whoever is using the word.

Fire Rainbow is a misnomer (bad name) for an arc of bright color along the horizon, in cirrus clouds. It’s related to a halo, not a rainbow. It’s correctly called a circumhorizon arc and it happens often when it is not raining!

Monsoon is a long-term shift in wind direction over a large area based on lowering pressure, often caused by warmer land. This often draws moisture in leading to a rainy season. It’s confused with typhoon which is what hurricanes are called in some parts of the world.

Pyrocumulus is a cumulus cloud, sometimes a cumulonimbus cloud, that is generated by the heat of large fires, with the moisture released from foliage that is burned.

El Niño is a natural Earth cycle where the water in the central and eastern Pacific gets warmer than usual and creates a ripple of changes in weather patterns around the globe. Not all El Niños are bad. The impact depends upon where you live and what season it is.

Bomb Cyclone is another old phrase used by meteorologists that describes a winter storm system that has pressure falling rapidly- at least 1 millibar per hour, for 24 hours. Social media seems to like that phrase.

Firenado is a word that has taken off on social media to describe what’s always been known as a fire whirl. It spins like a tornado but it does not form in the same way. Fire whirls can be very destructive.

Supermoon is another word that has become popular on social media, to describe a perigee moon- the moon in the closest point to Earth in a lopsided orbit. It’s a little bigger and brighter but not to an extreme degree.

Alan Sealls, WKRG-TV Chief Meteorologist


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