The winners of the Royal Meteorological Society’s 2020 “Weather Photographer of the Year” award were announced, and the images are nothing short of breathtaking. From the sculptural ice formations of Lake Baikal in Siberia to the bright green hilltops peeking out from an ethereal layer of morning mist in Vietnam’s Long Coc Tea Hill, the photographs capture the sublime beauty and awesome power of weather.
Organized in association with AccuWeather, the annual competition is normally restricted to images taken during the award year; due to COVID-19 travel restrictions in 2020, organizers opened up the contest to images from photographers’ archives.
Finalist Tina Wright, for instance, captured one of the two largest haboobs (dust storms) ever recorded in the state of Arizona in her photo “Final Stand,” taken in 2018. She snapped the shot when the mile-high dust wall had reached its maximum height and density just as the sun was setting, lending the scene its striking hues of deep pink and sherbet orange.
“Blizzard” by Rudolf Sulgan, taken on the Manhattan end of the Brooklyn Bridge, won the competition’s top prize out of a shortlist of 26 images. There were more than 7,700 photographs entered into the competition.
Sulgan took the picture in the winter of 2018 during El Niño, a series of climatic changes that bring unusually warm ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific. The periodic warming of water often disrupts normal weather patterns.
“To combat this change in global temperature rise, we can reduce emissions and ensure communities have the resources they need to withstand the effects of climate change,” said Sulgan in a press release. “Today’s choices will determine how high sea levels rise, how fast it occurs, and how much time we have to protect our communities.”
“My main concern and inspiration is that my images hopefully do a small part in combating climate change,” he added.
Chilean photographer Francisco Javier Negroni Rodriguez, a finalist for the prize, shot a rare lenticular cloud in El Chaltén, a mountain village in the Patagonian region of Argentina. With a distinctive, slender shape that resembles a lens or a flying saucer, these cloud formations occur when stable, moist air flows over a mountain, setting off large-scale standing waves on its downwind side.
When he took the picture, Rodriguez was walking along the trails of El Chaltén, patiently waiting for the sky to clear in the hopes of capturing the scenery at sunset.
“But nature surprised me,” he said. “It was a unique and unrepeatable gift that sometimes reminds me of how lucky I am to be a photographer and to be able to visit different places to show the world these natural and climatic beauties.”
The first runner up for the award was Vu Trung Huan, whose image of sloping tea hills in the northern province of Phu Tho at sunrise evokes an otherworldly fairytale landscape. The undulating emerald-colored tea plantations are shrouded in valley fog, which forms when cold, dense air collects and condenses.
“When the sun is up, everything is tinged with sunlight, on the tea buds there is still glittering morning dew, a pure beauty that makes you just want to embrace everything,” said Huan.
“Baikal Treasure” (2013), a photograph of turquoise ice formations in Cape Kotelnikovsky in Siberia by Alexey Trofimov, received the distinction of “Public’s Favorite.” Unlike the overall winning image, which is selected by a judging panel, Trofimov’s photo was chosen by the public from the shortlisted entries, with more than 11,275 votes cast in total.
Cape Kotelnikovsky is located on the northwest coast of Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest and largest freshwater lake, which is covered in ice for almost five months out of the year. As the temperature drops, some blocks rise up and take on their gemstone-like forms through effects of the wind, sublimation, melting, and freezing.
This year’s judging panel for the “Weather Photographer of the Year” award included Liz Bentley, chief executive of the Royal Meteorological Society; Mark Boardman, owner of StormHour Ltd; Matt Clark, photo editor of RMetS Weather magazine; Jesse Ferrell, AccuWeather expert meteorologist; and Gareth Mon Jones, winner of Weather Photographer of the Year 2019.