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The Sky Is On Fire!

With all the insane weather we've experienced in the last year, we hooked up with meteorologist Reed Timmer, star of Discovery’s Storm Chasers, to rate the world's wildest weather phenomena.

Fire Tornadoes

Photo: David McNew / Getty Images

Game over, man! Game over! Not even Bill Paxton would be a match for these swirling messes of hellfire, capable of reaching 2,000 flesh-melting degrees and thousands of feet in height. Fire tornadoes can pop up during Hades-hot wildfires, in which surging temperatures and winds create a natural updraft that sucks flames into a violent column of spinning air and fire that’s just aching to go all Raiders of the Lost Ark on your face. Running into one of these may be the closest you can get to experi­encing the surface of the sun, so give it a shot if you’re curious.
Reed's Take: “This is a vortex that we would not want to intercept. Maybe someday, if we can make my storm-chasing truck, the Dominator 2, fireproof, we’ll be able to get inside one of these fire-nadoes.”


Thundersnow
Like a thunderstorm, but with the wet stuff taking a backseat to the white stuff. Also, the name of our new kick-ass metal band. 
Reed's Take: “I am obsessed with thundersnow! Thankfully, its only danger is if you are struck by lightning in a whiteout.”

Supercell

Photo: Weatherpix.com
 
Not just a thunderstorm, but a super-powerful rotating thunderstorm that looks like a nuclear explosion. The secret ingredient: a spinning updraft called a mesocyclone, which can tighten into a true tornado. Keep alert, Dorothy (and your little dog, too!). 
Reed's Take: “Isolated supercells can look like alien spacecraft hovering across the ground in a clear blue sky. One of their biggest dangers is the baseball- to softball-size hail. I’ve lost dozens of windshields to them.”

Mammatus Clouds

Photo: Gene & Karen Rhoden / Visuals Unlimited Inc.

What you get when a bunch of cloudy pouches hang high in the sky. Luckily, these fluffy numbers only look like Armageddon. Although they’re associated with thunderstorms, they’re pretty harmless. Fun fact: The name mammatus comes from their resemblance to breasts, proving that science is creepy. 
Reed's Take: “Mammatus can cover the entire sky in a beautiful pattern of perfectly smooth pouches and are especially dramatic when the sun angle is low. Of course, to the untrained eye they can look like the end of the world is coming.”

Raining Animals
Yep, it’s real! A tornado’s updrafts can be strong enough to suck up animals (cows, frogs, Real Housewives cast members) before gravity brings ’em back down to Earth. Straight outta Exodus!
Reed's Take: “Once, as we were approaching a tornado, we saw a field full of miniature donkeys about the size of dogs. After the tornado moved, the mini donkeys were gone! One of our Discovery production vehicles was about a half-mile downstream of these potentially airborne donkeys, and its roof had caved in about a foot. To this day we still debate the cause of the damage.”

Roll Clouds

Photo: PPSOP / Corbis

Tubular clouds that look like a sideways tornado—or God smoking a joint. They’re usually formed just ahead of heavy rain. 
Reed's Take: “Roll clouds are dangerous only if you’re trapped outdoors with no shelter—like years ago, when I abandoned our vehicle after it got stuck in the middle of nowhere. I ran a few miles through an intense storm with 50 to 60 mph winds, cloud-to-ground lightning all around, and occasional baseball-size hail, some covered with numerous sharp spikes. I got lucky, but it was one of the most unpleasant and panicked runs I have ever had.”

Haboob Dust Storm

Photo: AFP / Getty Images

A massive city-size dust storm (seriously: search YouTube for “Phoenix haboob” to see the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to Arizona). It turns day into can’t-see-shit night and your lungs into a nasty vacuum bag. 
Reed's Take: “Don’t try to drive through a dense haboob. Not only is visibility limited, but also your engine compartment will become caked with dirt. Trust me—I have tried, and this maneuver will shut you down.”

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