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Four Weather Events in History Mistaken for the Apocalypse

By Michael Kuhne, AccuWeather.Com Staff Writer
July 9, 2014; 5:50 AM ET
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In the vast expanse of geologic time, the Earth has endured massive extinction events powerful enough to extinguish the lives of nearly every plant and creature on the planet.

It is possible humanity will meet a similar fate in the future, which has modern prophets everywhere warning that the end is near, despite numerous failed predictions throughout history.

Mother Nature's fury will likely play a grand role in the endgame, according to legends about the end of time from cultures across the globe. Some believe the skies will blacken, with only the glow of a bloody moon hung high in the darkness to light the way. In other tales, fierce and unusual weather of every kind will follow other great afflictions, marking the twilight hours of the planet.

The red-orange glow of the blood moon eclipse. (Facebook/Dan Stern)

Take a look at four of the strangest weather-related events to occur in the 19th and 20th centuries, which have the potential to spark fear among doomsday theorists that humanity's final days may be upon us.

A Plague of Locusts That Blocked the Sun

Holding the record for the largest animal swarm ever recorded, the dreaded Rocky Mountain locust was hated by farmers because of the insect's ravenous appetite for devouring crops. In 1874, a plague of biblical proportions would sweep across Nebraska.

The swarm was so large that it devastated millions of crops and blotted out the sun.

(Photo/Minnesota Historical Society)

"This swarm covered an approximate 198,000 square miles," according to a report from University of Michigan's website. "This is twice the size of the state of Colorado. There were at least 12.5 trillion insects with a total weight of 27.5 million tons."

Some accounts indicate that entire farms saw crops destroyed in minutes. The crop damage inflicted because of the pest between 1873 and 1877 totaled about $200 million.

"The only green plants that seemed to be spared from the specie's mandibles were tomatoes, castor beans and raspberries," according to the article, adding that the insects even consumed bark.

Hot and dry conditions, due to drought, during the summer of 1874 likely contributed the sun-blocking plague of locusts that descended upon the Plains.

An increased food supply for the insects was available because prairie plants concentrate sugars in their stalks during droughts.

The mysterious Rocky Mountain locust is now extinct. Once found from the southern tip of the forests in British Columbia through Montana and the High Plains, the species disappeared in 20 years, likely due to agriculture destroying their breeding habitat, the website reported.

The Lavender Sun and Early Midnight Sky

It was a warm summer and early autumn in 1950, and Sunday, Sept. 24, began like any other day for hard-working people across the country, but as the clock ticked onward past the noon hour, a creeping shadow began to engulf the sky. By midday, areas from Chicago to Philadelphia were cast into darkness.

A brush fire in the valley caused smoke to permeate the air and turned the sun a pinkish hue. (Photo/Flickr:midiman)

The sun glowed in bursts of Technicolor, shimmering in shades of pink, purple and blue as terrified onlookers gazed at an early midnight sky.

"Some people thought it was the end of the world - and one man called The Bradford Era to confirm it," according to an account in Bradford, Pennsylvania.

Official reports indicated the hot, dry summer had provided conditions for an outbreak of wildfires in Canada, which burned out of control, causing smoke plumes to scorch the skies in the Midwest and Northeast.

"The National Weather Bureau reported that the smoke blanket was at an altitude of 16,000 to 20,000 feet over Ohio, carried by clockwise air currents around a high-pressure area. By mid-afternoon, it extended from Chicago to Williamsport, Pennsylvania," the article states.

"Western Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan had the thickest smoke. In Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds had to play under the lights at Forbes Field."

Many were skeptical that wildfires were the cause, and to this day, people still question the cause of the event.

"In Philadelphia, the sun turned lavender. And Philadelphia scientists were the first to discredit the reports that Canadian forest fires could have caused the change in the sun's color," according to Bradford article. "All agreed that it was ‘unique,' but they admitted that the odd coloration was probably due to peculiar formations of ice crystals in the smoke, and noted that the temperature had dropped rapidly and that the weather was cooler than normal."

As of 6 p.m., skies began to clear in Bradford, Pennsylvania. Daylight returned with a new sunrise on Sept. 25.

On Wednesday, July 9, 2014, massive smoke plumes from Northwestern Canada spread into the North Central United States.

Frogs and Fish Rain Down from the Heavens

In the late winter of 2010, people living in the town Lajamanu, in the Northern Territory of Australia, were bombarded by tiny, white fish that fell from the sky.

(Mike Watson Images/moodboard/ Thinkstock)

Tales of fish, frogs and other creatures raining down from the heavens have been reported as far back to even the time of some of the earliest civilizations, according to the U.S. Library of Congress's Everyday Mysteries website.

Animals can be picked up by vortexes and in updrafts from thunderstorms, before they plummet back down to the surface.

"The fish were reported to be spangled perch, common to northern Australia," AccuWeather.com's article reported.

In 2009, numerous cities in Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan, saw hundreds of tadpoles falling from the sky, according to a Telegraph article.

However, the notion that strong winds picked up the tiny frogs did not satisfy several Japanese meteorologists.

"Officials at Kanazawa Local Meteorological Observatory told local media that they were unsure how the tadpoles had arrived as there had been no reports of strong winds at the time," the article reports.

According to the Library of Congress's article, some objects including fish, frogs and other animals could be carried great distances.

"Similarly, when it hailed frogs in Dubuque, Iowa, on June 16, 1882, scientists speculated that small frogs were picked up by a powerful updraft and frozen into hail in the cold air above earth's surface," the Library of Congress reports. "Although no one has actually witnessed an updraft lifting frogs off the ground, the theory is scientifically plausible since updrafts regularly pick up lightweight debris and carry it considerable distances."

In 2010, the mysterious, skyward polliwogs returned to their strange free fall upon Japan, according to the Japan Times.

The Year Without a Summer

For people living in the northern parts of the world in 1816, no respite from the cold would come, even after the spring had set in. A great, global famine would ensue as a result of altered weather patterns that plunged the Northern Hemisphere into a winterlike chill during prime growing seasons.

Unseasonably cold weather would kill trees, rice and water buffalo in China and Tibet, according to a Smithsonian Magazine article. Floods would follow and destroy what was left of the remaining crops.

In the northern United States, even Thomas Jefferson's crop was afflicted by the harsh chill that continued well into the growing season with another Virginia snowfall in June.

The U.S. side of Niagara Falls has begun to thaw after being frozen solid from the recent "polar vortex" that affected millions in the U.S. and Canada, Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, in Niagara Falls, N.Y., as seen from the Canadian side of the falls. (AP Photo/Nick LoVerde)

As the weeks continued, the icy winter spell would linger for the remainder of the summer, causing an immense burden on farmers across the country.

"On July 4, water froze in cisterns and snow fell again, with Independence Day celebrants moving inside churches where hearth fires warmed things a mite," Virginia resident Pharaoh Chesney is quoted by the Smithsonian Magazine.

"Thomas Jefferson, having retired to Monticello after completing his second term as President, had such a poor corn crop that year that he applied for a $1,000 loan," the article reported.

Europe was not spared the misery of 1816. In the summer, a period of heavy rain would hover for eight weeks across Ireland, causing the potato crop to fail. This great famine the heavy rain caused would be followed by disease.

"The widespread failure of corn and wheat crops in Europe and Great Britain led to what historian John D. Post has called ‘the last great subsistence crisis in the western world,' the article reports. "After hunger came disease. Typhus broke out in Ireland late in 1816, killing thousands, and over the next couple of years spread through the British Isles."

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The misery caused by the harsh growing season would become known as 'The Poverty Year,' according to an account recorded on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's website.

According to NOAA's account, climate data indicates that 1816 was part of a mini-ice age that persisted from 1400 to 1860. Another contributing factor in the unseasonable weather could be the violent eruption of an Indonesian volcano on the island of Soembawa that occurred in April 1815.

AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Jim Andrews said a powerful volcanic eruption could have a detrimental effect on the global climate if conditions were severe enough.

According to the Smithsonian Magazine article, the blast from Tambora was the most destructive eruption to occur in the past 10,000 years.

(Photo/Google Maps)

"Then, on April 10, came the volcano's terrible finale: three columns of fire shot from the mountain, and a plume of smoke and gas reached 25 miles into the atmosphere," the magazine reported. "Fire-generated winds uprooted trees. Pyroclastic flows, or incandescent ash, poured down the slopes at more than 100 miles an hour, destroying everything in their paths and boiling and hissing into the sea 25 miles away."

"It's widely believed by researchers that when you have a tremendous volcanic blast that lofts ash and gas into the stratosphere, you get a reflection of sunlight before it gets deep enough into the atmosphere," Andrews said. "Effectively you're losing heat energy, and if it's powerful enough and spreads a cloud around the equator, you're losing a tremendous amount of solar energy."

Andrews said to get a noticeable effect on climate, which is typically cooling, the stronger the volcanic blast is, the more intense the result will be.

"The higher sulfur dioxide content, the better, and the nearer to the equator it is, the better," he said. "It's going to put that cloud right in the wheelhouse of the climate, where the rubber meets the road."

However, researchers do not blame the famine of 1816 entirely on Tambora's eruption, because the Earth was already in the midst of a preexisting cooling trend, the Smithsonian reports.

Despite being thousands of miles away and occurring nearly one year earlier, the lasting effects would become one of the greatest global disasters people in the 19th century would endure.

"Still waiting for the warming sun to save their labored breath, the kids were disappointed, no swimming, such a shame. It was in 1816 that summer never came," according to a poem by Eileen Marguet.

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