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)

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. a photo of Los Angeles in 1962
    Transportation

    Mapping the Effects of the Great 1960s ‘Freeway Revolts’

    Urbanites who battled the construction of the Interstate Highway System in the 1960s saved some neighborhoods—but many highways did transform cities.

  2. A man and a woman shop at a modern kiosk by a beach in a vintage photo.
    Design

    Why Everyday Architecture Deserves Respect

    The places where we enact our daily lives are not grand design statements, yet they have an underrated charm and even nobility.

  3. a photo of a small fleet of electric Chevrolet Bolts cars.
    Transportation

    Should Electric Vehicle Drivers Pay Per Mile?

    Since EV drivers zip past gas taxes, they don’t contribute to the federal fund for road maintenance. A new working paper tries to determine whether plug-ins should pay up.

  4. A photo of anti-gentrification graffiti in Washington, D.C.
    Equity

    The Hidden Winners in Neighborhood Gentrification

    A new study claims the effects of neighborhood change on original lower-income residents are largely positive, despite fears of spiking rents and displacement.

  5. A crowded street outside in Boston
    Life

    Surveillance Cameras Debunk the Bystander Effect

    A new study uses camera footage to track the frequency of bystander intervention in heated incidents in Amsterdam; Cape Town; and Lancaster, England.                            

×