Who has the power? It’s a question that has obsessed civilisations for millennia, and one that continues to shape the world we live in today. But while politicians, governments, countries and multinational corporations jostle it out among themselves, there’s one force that can’t be reckoned with, a force so powerful it’s beyond human control: Mother Nature.
From floods, earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, tornadoes, hurricanes and more, Mother Nature continually proves she’s boss, and the devastation she can leave in her wake puts everything else into perspective. This is especially the case when climate change, therefore humans, might be increasingly responsible for the frequency and ferocity of these events, according to Scientific American.
But there’s more to Mother Nature’s awesome power than just natural disasters. Sure, she has the ability to unleash mass destruction, but she can also be completely inspiring. Standing in awe of the Northern Lights, or gazing at the Milky Way, is a sure-fire way to make you feel totally insignificant.
Every new day brings with it a whole ton of weird, wonderful and intimidating natural phenomena. Here are 25 incredible pics that capture Mother Nature at her most beautiful and brutal.
As if the sight of an erupting volcano couldn’t be anymore breathtaking, or ominous, Mother Nature decided to add some lightning to the mix.
This apocalyptic-looking phenomenon occurs in a volcanic plume, the column of ash spewed into the sky. In a nutshell, densely packed particles rub against each other and become electrically charged. When negatively charged and positively charged particles become separated, lightning tears through the plume connecting them. But there’s still so much about this phenomenon that scientists don’t understand, like why it happens in some volcano eruptions and not others.
In 2018, a giant wall of sand engulfed the city of Phoenix in Arizona, US. The cloud, which had swept in from the desert, was almost a mile high and 230ft wide, according to The Independent, prompting the weather service to issue storm warnings advising people not to travel. Considering the near-zero visibility this event caused, it was sound advice.
Dust clouds like this are known as haboobs, which is an Arabic expression for giant dust storm, and they’re caused by winds hitting the ground when a thunderstorm dissipates. When these gust fronts, which can exceed 50 miles per hour, sweep across expanses of dry land, they kick the dust into the air.
The prospect of the earth literally opening up and swallowing you whole is scary, but the reasons why sinkholes happen are surprisingly simple.
According to National Geographic, there are two types of sinkhole. One occurs when the roof of a cave collapses into an underground cavern. The second kind of sinkhole happens when water dissolves a layer of underlying rock, creating an underground cavity. Without the rock to support it, the layer of soil on top collapses, creating a hole.
Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in the Philippines in November 2013 and remains one of the worst storms on record. It had wind speeds of more than 150 mph, was classified as a super typhoon, and given Category 5 storm rating.
It devastated the Visayas, a group of islands in the country’s central region, and swept away more than 1.1 million houses, according to The Guardian. The typhoon’s fury affected more than 14 million people, prompting an international aid effort.
When Mother Nature puts on a show, she puts on the greatest show on earth, and one of the headline acts has to be the Aurora Borealis. Also known as the Northern Lights, this dazzling phenomenon happens in regions close to the Arctic circle, while Aurora Australis happens in the south, close to the Antarctic.
Auroral displays appear like magical, bright dancing lights and can be many colours, including green and pink. The light is created by charged particles smashing into the earth's atmosphere.
One of the most awesome sights in the natural world, these twisting storm columns can destroy everything in their wake.
They are born in thunderstorms called supercells and form when changes in wind speed and direction create a horizontal spinning effect. According to the National Geographic, the speed of their winds can be up to 250 miles an hour.
Tornadoes happen across the globe but the US is a hotspot for these phenomena, and a region known as “Tornado Alley,” which includes South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, northern Texas, and eastern Colorado, has about 1,000 tornadoes a year.
Once a thriving fishing town, with more than 2,000 residents, Houtouwan is now an abandoned ghost town reclaimed by nature.
Located about 40 miles east of Shanghai, this tiny village was established in the 1950s, but because its surrounding seas were vulnerable to storms, and the only road in and out of town was treacherous, the town could no longer compete with the larger ports that sprung up around it.
According to news.com.au, it’s thought that all of its residents had moved out in the early 1990s to look for jobs in bigger cities, leaving the town to the mercy of Mother Nature.
In March 2011, a magnitude 9 earthquake shocked Japan and unleashed a tsunami that wreaked epic destruction.
According to Japan's Reconstruction Agency, more than 120,000 buildings were destroyed, 278,000 were half-destroyed and 726,000 were partially destroyed, and the Japanese government has estimated the financial damage to be about $199 billion dollars.
The effects of the great earthquake were felt around the world and tsunami debris continues to wash up on North American beaches today.
Mount Agung on Bali spewed a 2,000-metre-high column of thick ash when it erupted in July 2018. The National Disaster Mitigation Agency said the eruption lasted three minutes and 47 seconds, and forced nearly 700 people to flee the nearby village of Banjar Galih.
It’s not the first time this volcano, which is about 70 km northeast of tourist hub Kuta, has erupted in recent memory. Its last major eruption was in 1963.
Hurricane Wilma is the most intense hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic basin, Science Daily reported. It made landfall in Florida in 2005 after causing severe destruction in Cuba and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.
This Category 3 hurricane had a 50-mile wide eye and winds of up to 125 mph and caused a massive $20.6 billion worth of damage in Florida alone. While it looked spectacular from satellite images, it must have been a scary sight on the ground.
As one of the world’s most active volcanoes, Kilauea is a powerful reminder to locals on Hawaii's Big Island that there are risks to living on this little patch of paradise.
This stunning volcano dominates the landscape, rising 4,190 ft from the sea and covering a massive 14 percent of the island’s land area - and every so often, it awakens to incredible effect.
In 2018, Kilauea rumbled for several months, shooting lava hundreds of feet into the air. Lava flows destroyed at least 700 homes, according to the local officials.
This photo, taken on the slopes of mountains in the Caucasus Region of Russia, illustrates just how intimidating a wall of snow racing towards you might look - in case you hadn't have guessed.
For people who live in mountainous regions in cold climates, avalanches are a very real and present threat. They occur when huge slabs of snow break off a mountainside and shatter. As the broken pieces fall downhill they reach speeds of 80 miles per hour in just five seconds, according to National Geographic. They’re more likely to occur in 24 hours following a snowstorm.
In 2005, a Category 4 storm with winds of nearly 127 mph swept through the state of Louisiana in one the most devastating natural disasters to hit the US.
Because it’s located below sea level, the city of New Orleans was one of the worst affected areas after its defences, levees, were unable to cope with Katrina’s strength, causing mass flooding. Storm surges reached over six metres in height and around $16.3 billion in claims was paid out by the National Flood Insurance Program, according to CNN.
A spectacular summer storm swept across South Australia in 2018, with as many as 63,000 lightning strikes recorded during just one 24-hour period.
This insane light show caused blackouts across the state, with an estimated 17,000 homes without power at the storm’s peak. This thunderstorm followed several days of extreme heat, with Adelaide temperatures having soared to a sweltering 42.2 degrees Celsius, reported ABC.
This photo of a cruise ship battling massive waves in the North Sea is a stark reminder that the ocean shows no mercy. During the winter months, gales, storms and mammoth waves are a frequent occurrence in this region of the Atlantic Ocean. However, rogue waves can happen anywhere.
Long dismissed by scientists as maritime folklore, rogue waves were finally recognised in 2004 after researchers from the European Space Agency (ESA), used satellite data to show that freak waves do occur. Thankfully, these monster waves are rare.
There’s no better way of putting the human race into perspective than gazing up at the night’s sky, and with some of the darkest skies on the planet, the view from the Matterhorn has serious wow factor.
The best-known mountain in the Alps, the Matterhorn is located on the Swiss-Italian border and rises 15,000 ft into the sky, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Its name, translated from German, literally means “peak in the meadows,” and while this is somewhat of an understatement, the view from the top is anything but.
Bushfires are a common hazard in Australia, creating a raft of insane weather phenomenon including dry lightning, black hail and even fire tornadoes.
This fire tornado, captured near Canberra, was more than 10,000 metres high and 200–300 metres wide. It travelled for more than 20 kilometres, destroying everything in its path, according to ABC News.
Also known as a fire whirl, wind speeds can reach up to 99 miles per hour and core temperatures can reach a staggering 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
This Cornish seaside village is one of the most storm-battered towns in the UK, and this incredible image was captured during a massive storm in 2014.
Thanks to a weather front in the Atlantic, huge waves crashed into Porthleven, on the UK’s south-west coast, engulfing the town’s seafront granite tower, which looks like a church but is actually a snooker-hall. According to the BBC, tidal buoys measured these waves at more than 40ft high.
Kilauea wreaked havoc on Hawaii’s Big Island in 2018, shooting lava hundreds of feet into the air. The US Geological Survey reported that the lava was initially travelling at a rate of 100 cubic meters per second, and that it covered more than 12 square miles of land, obliterating more than 700 homes.
After three months, however, this fiery river had slowed to a dwindling stream as the lava flow ground to a halt, CNN reported.
Every night for eight months of the year, a lightning storm rages on the southwestern side of Venezuela’s massive Lake Maracaibo. It’s called the Relámpago del Catatumbo, as relámpago means lightning and Catatumbo is the name of a nearby river, and this phenomenon sees an estimated 40,000 lightning bolts light up the sky daily at a rate of 18 to 60 bolts per minute.
Unsurprisingly, with storms of this frequency, Venezuela entered the Guinness Book of World Records for the most lightning strikes per hour (according to scienceline.org). Coolest of all, scientists still can’t agree on what causes this never-ending storm. Incredible stuff.
Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat and one of Bolivia’s biggest tourist attractions, thanks to its dream-like, otherworldly beauty.
This vast area of tightly compacted, crackling salt crystals covers about 10,000 square kilometres. It’s an unbroken sheet of white stretching to the horizon and it’s almost blinding to the naked eye. In the rainy season, the landscape - formed from the remnants of prehistoric lakes - is transformed into a shallow lake that mirrors the sky above.
This icy phenomenon was captured on camera by the BBC, at Little Razorback Island, near Antarctica’s Ross Archipelago.
A brinicle is a twisting column of ice that drives down to the seafloor, where it kills everything it comes in to contact with, hence the name “Ice Finger of Death.” It’s caused by cold brine which, being denser than the seawater around it, sinks. It then freezes the warmer water below it, creating an icy finger-like formation.
Supercells are one of the rarest types of thunderstorm and it’s just as well, considering they have the destructive potential second only to hurricanes.
These type of thunderstorms contain a deep, rotating updraft called a mesocyclone. This makes the storm self-sustaining, meaning it can last for many hours. Supercells also produce all kinds of weird weather phenomenon, like dangerous winds, giant hailstones and tornadoes.
While you probably don’t want to stick around to see what a supercell thunderstorm has in store, they are awesome to look at, from a safe distance.
China’s Yunnan Province is no stranger to seismic activity. The area suffered deadly earthquakes in 1970 and 1974, before being struck again in 2014 by a 6.1 magnitude event.
The earthquake hit Ludian county, in a mountainous region roughly 225 miles north-east of province’s capital, Kunming. According to Chinese state media, the earthquake toppled homes, as this photo shows, and sent residents fleeing into the streets. The tremor was also felt in the neighbouring provinces of Guizhou and Sichuan.
The plume from a volcanic eruption is an awesome sight, but it’s also pretty deadly and, depending on the size of the ash cloud, has the potential to cause major worldwide disruption.
Volcanic ash is a combination of splintered rock, shattered by the pressurised explosion, and liquid magma that has frozen into dust particles after hitting the cool air. Ash clouds consist of very, very fine particles, which can be carried huge distances, and can reflect sunlight back into space. Their fine composition makes them deadly to aircraft and it’s their reflective quality that can have adverse effects on climate, effectively cooling the planet.
In 1815, the ash cloud from Indonesia’s Mt Tambora triggered the "year without a summer,” causing widespread crop failure and economic collapse.
Sources: bbc; nationalgeographic; sciencedaily; theguardian