Wild Weather Words You Need To Know

Amazing weather words

People talk about the weather all the time. And so, we present this list of weather words we think you need to know to join the conversation.

There’s a slight focus on winter weather words, but we won’t include the swear words you mutter under your breath as you shovel off the driveway for the fifth time this month. Remember, the first day of spring is March 20.

WATCH: Weather Words You Need To Know


polar vortex

The polar vortex is a massive whirlpool of cold air that hovers above Earth’s North and South poles. During the warm months, the vortex shrinks toward the poles and generally stays out of our hair, which is nice. During the winter though, the vortex’s boundary—a narrow band of fast air called the polar front jet streamexpands, dipping toward the equator and dumping frigid weather onto any unsuspecting towns (or commuters) in its path.

Fun fact: 2004’s science-fiction disaster blockbuster, The Day After Tomorrow, depicts a global, life-threatening climate catastrophe caused, at least in part, by the polar vortex.

bombogenesis and bomb cyclone

People head to the stores to stock up on bread and milk for this one, and the news stations offer “team coverage.” A bombogenesis is “the process that occurs during a 24-hour period when the atmospheric pressure of an extratropical cyclone drops with enough intensity to produce explosive cyclogenesis.” What exactly does this mean? The central barometric pressure drops quickly, producing hurricane-force winds and heavy snow or rainfall—like 77 inches worth of snow in one day!

Nor’easters often undergo bombogenesis as cold winds from the north mix with warmer ocean water from the south, creating a big temperature range. These “weather bombs” or bomb cyclones can become blizzards when the conditions are just right. These bombs happen mostly in the fall and winter, but they aren’t unheard of during other times of the year.


What the difference between a cyclone, hurricane, and typhoon, you ask? Let’s clear the storm of confusion over these weather events, here. 


Frazil are “ice crystals formed in turbulent water, as in swift streams or rough seas.” Much more exciting than just calling it ice-in-the-river!

However, frazil can also form in lakes and oceans; it is the start of sea ice. Frazil usually forms on very clear nights with very low temperatures.


An haboob is “a thick dust storm or sandstorm that blows in the deserts of North Africa and Arabia or on the plains of India.” Haboob’s dust-storm cousin also hits the United States—just ask anyone who lives in Phoenix.

These dust storms usually occur during or as a result of a thunderstorm.

crepuscular ray

When you sit on the porch admiring the sunset, you might be looking at a crepuscular ray. Defined as “a twilight ray of sunlight shining through breaks in high clouds and illuminating dust particles in the air,” this is one of the more tame (and dare we say relaxing) weather words on our list.


You know how it smells outside after a rainstorm? There’s a word for that, of course.

Petrichor is the distinct scent of rain in the air. Or, to be more precise, it’s the name of an oil that’s released from the earth into the air before rain begins to fall.


This word sastruga (sastrugi in the plural form) means “ridges of snow formed on a snowfield by the action of the wind.” It’s beautiful in an open field, and a different kind of awe-inspiring in the parking lot you’re supposed to plow.


If you’re out adventuring and you see a williwaw headed your way, take cover. It is “a violent squall that blows in near-polar latitudes, as in the Strait of Magellan, Alaska, and the Aleutian Islands.” This may very well lead to what’s known as a three-dog night (that’s a night so cold it calls for three warm pets in the bed).


Holed up with three rambunctious pets would be the climactic point of anyone’s week. Do you know the difference between climactic and climatic, though?


Yet another storm you’ll want to avoid. A derecho is a widespread and severe windstorm that moves rapidly along a fairly straight path, and it is associated with bands of rapidly moving thunderstorms.

In some instances, the media will refer to derechos as inland hurricanes!


We define gloriole as “a halo, nimbus, or aureole.” When ice crystals are suspended in the atmosphere, light catches them causing a bright halo or even a rainbow around the sun or moon.

The gloriole forms 22 degrees away from the center of the object, but this phenomenon can often be confused with coronas that form due to water droplets. Where’s Bill Nye the Science Guy when you need him?


For those who live in the US, specifically the Midwest or East Coast, you’ve probably experienced that hot, sticky, humid weather during the summer. And, that’s just what swullocking means: humid weather.


The Online Scots Dictionary cites this one: “A thick atmosphere, a dense enveloping cloud or swirl of smoke, snow, rain, or mist.”

So, we can easily assume that the foggy, murky Scottish Highlands are full of smuir. Alternatively, a blind smuir is merely a snowdrift.


One more from Scotland … have you ever looked up at the night sky and seen a large halo around the moon? This is what’s termed a moonbroch, and it is a sign of an approaching storm.

Oh, and a broch is an old term for a Scottish circular stone tower, so you can see how the Scots came up with the term, a halo being circular and all.

sugar weather

Now, let’s jet set to the Great White North for the meaning of this phrase. In Canada, when they have nice warm days but chilly nights, that’s known as sugar weather. Why?

Well, that type of weather is just right for getting the maple syrup running in the maple trees.

hunch weather

This term dates back to the 1700s. Basically, we’re talking about drizzle or winds that are strong enough to make you hunch over when you walk.

Bundle up and dream of spring vacation in the Bahamas. Winter’s bound to have some real hunch weather ahead.

monkey's wedding

Ever experience sunshine and rain at the same time? These weird weather anomalies have been known to be called sun showers, (resulting in a rainbow, no doubt).

However, in South Africa, a “sun shower” is also known as a monkey’s wedding. You may kiss the bride?


Let’s add monkey’s wedding to the list of Earth Day terms we all should know.


The virga phenomenon is when you can see that it is raining, but it evaporates on the way to the ground and ends up changing back to water vapor before you can feel it.

When it rains and the rain actually makes it to the ground, there’s a meteorological word for that, too: praecipitatio.

snow eater

Imagine, there’s snow everywhere. But, all of a sudden, a nice warm breeze blows over the snow and melts it all away.

Well, that’s what Farmer’s Almanac refers to as a snow eater. This usually happens in the Rockies, so don’t get too excited about the thought of not shoveling your driveway in the morning.


There is such a thing as thundersnow, and anyone who’s a fan of Jim Cantore on The Weather Channel knows it.

Basically, it’s when snow is the primary form of precipitation in a thunderstorm (instead of rain). When it happens, you’ll know it.

As a side note: you might end up with some of the wacky weather mentioned on the next slide, too.


Graupel is a type of precipitation that is formed when really cold water droplets collect, freeze, and fall on snowflakes. This creates what is known as a ball of rime, which we define as “an opaque coating of tiny, white, granular ice particles.”

If there’s graupel in the forecast, take shelter!

Now test your knowledge on all these turbulent words with our weather quiz!
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