Brocken Specters And Tornadic Waterspouts Among Weather Photographer Of The Year 2022 Shortlist

The Royal Meteorological Society's judges sure picked some incredible photographs.


Rachael Funnell


Rachael Funnell

Digital Content Producer

Rachael is a writer and digital content producer at IFLScience with a Zoology degree from the University of Southampton, UK, and a nose for novelty animal stories.

Digital Content Producer

brocken specter
Have you ever made a Brocken Specter? Image credit: Emili Vilamala Benito, Royal Meteorological Society's Weather Photographer Of The Year 2022

A shortlist of spectacular photos submitted to the Royal Meteorological Society's Weather Photographer of the Year 2022 has been released for public vote. Containing fascinating weather phenomena like Etruscan sunsets, double rainbows, and superior mirages, the selection, chosen by both photography and meteorological experts, will be tough to judge.

So, let’s take a look at what on Earth is happening in a few of them, shall we, starting with this spooky shot above?


Ghost Under The Cliff by Emili Vilamala Benito

The above photo shows a Brocken Specter stretching across the valley of Sau in Barcelona, which is covered in fog. Its maker was standing on the cliff of Tavertet when the Sun dipped to just the spot to create this spectacular optical phenomenon.

Brocken Specters, or Spectre of the Brocken, is the name given to a pretty nifty optical illusion that was first observed on the Brocken peak in Germany, earning it the local name Brockengespenst. It happens when a person or object creates a shadow that then gets a leg up by casting onto a cloud or fog, like in Benito’s photo. The combination results in an enormous shadow that looks really far away, and occasionally moves even if the person or object casting it remains still.

The valley of Sau is a good spot for giving it a go, says Benito, as fog is a common feature of the early morning landscape creating the ideal canvas on which to cast some spooky shadows.

double rainbow
Behold, the double rainbow. Image credit: Jamie Russel, Royal Meteorological Society's Weather Photographer Of The Year 2022

Departing Storm Over Bembridge Lifeboat Station by Jamie Russel

That’s right, it’s a double rainbow (all the way across the sky). Russel went above and beyond in pursuit of this composition, admitting to wading waist-deep into water while fully clothed so that he wouldn’t miss the shot.

Rainbows are an optical phenomenon that makes an appearance when rain and sunshine meet. The water refracts the light of the Sun splitting it into its constituent colors, which is why we’re sometimes treated to these technicolor bands of light during storms.

Double rainbows occur when sunlight gets reflected twice within a water drop creating a duplicate bow that has the reverse color sequence of its (often more vibrant twin). How rainbows appear to us depends on our position between the light source and the water, which means the view of each rainbow (double or otherwise) is unique to the observer.

tornadic waterspout
Choose your fighter. Image credit: Carlos Castillejo Balsera, Royal Meteorological Society's Weather Photographer Of The Year 2022

Waterspout In Barcelona by Carlos Castillejo Balsera

We’re back in Barcelona for this dramatic capture of two weather phenomena looking like they’re about to have a Kong vs Godzilla fight at sea. On the right, an intimidating waterspout was sliding down the front of the harbor, said Balsera, its progress occasionally illuminated by explosions of lightning to the left.

Tornadic waterspouts like this one form from cumulonimbus clouds or thunderstorms. They are what happens when rotating columns of air extend downwards from a cloud and pick up water. They can be quite violent, as this one certainly appears.

While a rather aggressive weather format, Balsera says that capturing dramatic storms is, for him, a kind of release. “Apart from my daughters and my family, storms are my passion and the reason why I can stay sleepless for hours and I am able to travel hundreds of kilometers by car in order to feel the discharge of energy that being in front of a storm produces in me,” he said in a statement sent to IFLScience.

etruscan sunset
Believe it or not, this is in Kent, UK. Image credit: Brendan Conway, Royal Meteorological Society's Weather Photographer Of The Year 2022

Mock Mirage Sunset Over The Estuary by Brendan Conway

At a glance you might not tack this image down to the UK, but in it we see people standing along a shingle "street" in Kent which is only exposed at low tide to enjoy a mock mirage sunset over the Thames Estuary. This occurs when temperature inversions (layers of cold air meeting warmer air) in the atmosphere distort the sun, making it look as if it’s been sliced horizontally.

Conway’s image gets even stranger thanks to an inferior mirage which has caused the buildings of Southend to appear higher than where they actually sit, resulting in a strange flaming city in the sky. The latter atmospheric magic trick is also connected to temperature inversions.

"I hope that when people look at the photo, they not only enjoy the aesthetic dimension but will also be prompted to think a bit more deeply about the incredible processes that brought it about,” said Conway. “It was a memorable and unexpected sunset. Inadvertently, the photograph captured some unusual phenomena and hopefully provided a thought-provoking catalyst for deeper knowledge about the atmosphere".

Supercells equal bad news. Image credit: Laura Hedien, Royal Meteorological Society's Weather Photographer Of The Year 2022

Circle The Wheat by Laura Hedien

This looming cloud is something of a force to be reckoned with. Supercells are arguably the most dangerous form of storm clouds, capable of unleashing skull-crushing hail, flash floods, winds and tornados strong enough to whip houses away.

These convective storm clouds are characterized by the presence of a rotating updraft called a mesocyclone deep within it and can bring devastation for several hours. Supercells like this one are common along Tornado Alley, which includes Kansas where this photo was taken.

“There is nothing like the feeling of standing before something so massive and potentially destructive but yet so incredibly majestic and beautiful,” said Hedien in a statement sent to IFLScience. “To even have a slight understanding of a supercell's birth, maturity and finally death is humbling.”


If you’ve enjoyed these photos and would like to see more, don’t forget to vote for the Royal Meteorological Society's Weather Photographer of the Year 2022.

This article has been amended to update the description of the Etruscan sunset to a mock mirage sunset.


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