Checking in on the winners of a National Weather Service contest.

Where’s the most gorgeous weather in America? The misty, rainbow-swept cliffs of Hawaii? The pristine, sofa-sized snow drifts of Maine? Florida’s sultry, lightning-flashed beaches?

Actually, a strong case could be made for Chicago and its pancake-flat suburbs. The city’s notoriously frigid winters bring spectacular landscapes of ice and fog, while warm-and-cold air masses clashing in the summer conjure storms that seem to hearken the end of times.

The region’s thrilling atmosphere is well-documented by the National Weather Service’s Chicago office, which holds a weekly Facebook contest to determine the latest, greatest nature photography. Judging from recent winners, 2015’s skies are going to be a hard act to follow. There’s been a horizon-spanning sun halo, a sun turned bloody red from forest fires, a thundercloud reminiscent of the Tsar Bomba detonation, and many other pulse-revving phenomena.

The weather service has given permission to publish some of the year’s winning photos; here they are in chronological order:

A sun halo shines over a snowy landscape in Forest Park. (Ann Hilton Fisher)
Vapor rises from a stream in Warrenville, just west of Chicago, in February. (Ratul Maiti)
Alien skies glow above the Fox River in Geneva, west of Chicago. (Jenny Lo Thorsen)
An August supercell blows up like a nuclear bomb in Lake County, Illinois. (Paul Goddard)
A dark, late-summer shelf cloud looms over Fox Lake, northwest of Chicago. (Karen Stoklasa Schmidt)
Canadian wildfire smoke gave the sunrise in a Chicago suburb a reddish hue in late August. (Ron Leffler)
Intimidating clouds flood the skies during an expected severe-weather event in July near Peoria, Illinois. (Josiah Maas)
A supercell thunderstorm dominates the horizon in September near Byron, Illinois. (Eric LaPier)
Fall colors pop out in the village of Wadsworth, Illinois, about 45 miles north of Chicago. (Butch Law)
A thunderstorm rolls through the city in November. (Barry Butler)
Sunlight streams through Chicago’s fog early in December. (Barry Butler)

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