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Weather Guru
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How rare are Vertical Rainbows

Resolved Question:

How rare are vertical rainbows? I took many pictures of a vertical rainbow over the water in a bay on Lake Huron, 2 nights ago.  And if you'd like to see a picture, I can send some to you. Thank you xxxx xxxxxx
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Meteorology
Expert:  Weather Guru replied 2 years ago.

Weather Guru :

Hi ...

Weather Guru :

"Vertical rainbows" are rare, but not impossible for Mother Nature to create. You would expect to see this weather phenomenon when when clouds obscure the rest of the rainbow or you have low lying fog/mist that only develops a partial rainbow. An optical illusion in the atmosphere could also create what appears to be a vertical rainbow. A similar illusion can occur with contrails.

Weather Guru :

Another possibility ...is that this was technically a rainbow. It could be what is referred to as a sundog or parhelion. This is when sunlight encounters high level (cirrus) clouds and reflects off the ice crystals at 22 degrees. This will create a small "rainbow" on both sides of the sun.

Weather Guru :

So, a picture would be very helpful. Or perhaps you can Google sundogs and see if this look familiar. If not ...then I would go with what I mentioned earlier about a partial rainbow...encountering a pocket of dry air at a higher elevation. Please let me know if this makes any sense ;-)

Weather Guru :

Oh and by the way .. I just noticed that you said "night". If this happened at night ...then it was not a rainbow. The only optical weather phenomenon that occurs at night would be due to high level ice clouds, as well. This occurs as a halo around the moon ...and can indicate that rain may occur in the coming day.

JACUSTOMER-t6dc40wx- :

It happened at sunset. We are on bay in Lake Huron called Alaska Bay. It's a semicirlce with the east or rising sun on my right and the west/setting sun on my right. The setting sun reflected beautifully on the right side of the bay and the growing obelisk which turned into the vertical rainbow was on the right or east side. I put the pictures on IWeather under the name of annieb if you want to see or I can send some to you. Tom Field and photographer I found on Google, is putting them on his web site. They are the prettiest he said he's ever seen. You might like to see them. Then you can more accurately figure them out. Can you let me know? I was asleep when you answered last night

JACUSTOMER-t6dc40wx- :

The picture is in the Sunset category I believe but I can send to an email address

JACUSTOMER-t6dc40wx- :

I would really like you to see a picture so you can tell me which kind of rainbow it is. It looks as I said, like an obelisk and grew from a mushroom shape

Weather Guru :

Hi .. I could not find the picture online. I would love to take a look at the photo. Feel free to email toXXX@XXXXXX.XXX.

Weather Guru :

Thanks

JACUSTOMER-t6dc40wx- :

Just back from grocery shopping. Will send now

JACUSTOMER-t6dc40wx- :

It is not a parhelion or sundog. Did you get the pictures? I have a Mac and sometimes, people don't get them in their emails. Let me know if you got them. And they weren't taken at night. It was about 7:50 to 8:10; just at sunset.

JACUSTOMER-t6dc40wx- :

page 3 right now at "Sunsets" on IWeather. It will be on page 4 probably by tomorrow. There are 4 pictures

JACUSTOMER-t6dc40wx- :

Iwitness.weather.com

JACUSTOMER-t6dc40wx- :

Tom Field put my pictures on his web site:


http://www.photocentric.net/rainbow_angles.htm


I don't understand any of the technical stuff but would love to know how rare these are. Over the water? on land? etc.

JACUSTOMER-t6dc40wx- :

I'm thrilled to be on that web site. The pictures get more fascinating the more I see them.

JACUSTOMER-t6dc40wx- :

At our next chat, will accept

JACUSTOMER-t6dc40wx- :

Thank you

Weather Guru :

Annie..

Weather Guru :

Those are great rainbow pictures! As a weather aficionado, I think that I got as much joy as you out of viewing the pictures. Though, being there in person would be even better! Anyway, to clear up what I mentioned in our earlier chat. Now that I have seen the photos, there is no doubt that this is a rainbow and not a "sundog" (aka parhelion). I think that you can use several terms to describe this particular type of rainbow...either a sunset rainbow, vertical rainbow, or partial rainbow. It can be called a sunset rainbow because rainbows that occur near sunrise or sunset are going to have a taller arc than those that occur during the middle of the day. This has to do with the necessary angle (42 degrees) that white sunlight must strike a raindrop in order for the internal reflection and separation of light to occur that will create the beautiful 7 colors of a rainbow instead of just white light. The same optical phenomenon occurs every evening at sunset with white sunlight is filtered through the atmosphere to leave only oranges and reds. As a side note, sunsets near beaches and lakes would be slightly more brilliant bc of a large amount of particulate matter (aka salt, etc) in the air that would filter the white light even more and leaving the photo-tastic reds and oranges.

Weather Guru :

The rainbow can also be called a vertical rainbow, again bc of the higher arc of the rainbow.. making the lower portion more vertical. Finally, a partial rainbow is also a good description bc it is possible that you are only seeing 1/10 of the rainbow. The rest could be obscured from view. Or a partial rainbow could form due to the location of the rain, mist, or fog.

Weather Guru :

In regards XXXXX XXXXX original question.....there is no hard data for exactly how rare a "vertical" rainbow is as in the weather community we do not keep track of rainbow occurrences, locations, and arc. The phenomenon is not unheard of or incredibly scientifically rare (as far as rainbows go)....though, with that said in all my years of weather watching I have never encountered a "vertical" rainbow in person and would consider it a privilege to see one in person.

Weather Guru :

Hope this helps...and thanks for sharing. In case you are interested ...here is a short video on Youtube that shows a "vertical" rainbow, but also allows you to see what the other half would look like if conditions where appropriate and the view unblocked: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jitz91VwmX8

Weather Guru :

--Bryan

JACUSTOMER-t6dc40wx- :

Thank you Bryan: I don't really understand the technical info but I understand that the rest of the rainbow must be hidden in the clouds. Why did it start as a mushroom and grow rather than present as a full rainbow? If you would answer that for me I will click the accept button tomorrow.

JACUSTOMER-t6dc40wx- :

It must be sort of rare compared to regular rainbows that are an arc. And the good part is that it was on the water rather than land.

JACUSTOMER-t6dc40wx- :

I will click the accept button tomorrow am.

Weather Guru :

Not sure I completely understand your question .."starting as a mushroom". If you are questioning why you could only see the bottom portion of the rainbow....that is simply bc that is where the rain, fog, or mist is located. Within the cloud, the miniscule rain drops (cloud condensation nuclei) are packed too dense for any light to penetrate enough for rainbow formation.

Weather Guru :

If you are referring to the shape of the rainbow .....any change in the shape of the rainbow would simply be due to either the lowering of the sun angle as the sun set, movement of the storm relative to your location, or the density of the rain falling from the storm. You can experiment with this my putting your hose nozzle on mist on a sunny day. You should be able to notice a small "rainbow"....and then play around with the size of it by increasing the amount of mist from the hose. My thought, is that the change in the shape of the rainbow in this case would most likely have to do with change in density of precipitation...aka how heavy the rain is falling.

Weather Guru :

Anyway, thanks for asking these questions. I just enjoy sharing whatever knowledge I have about the weather. Severe weather is my specialty, but I am very interested in other weather phenomenon...like rainbows. So thanks for sharing.

JACUSTOMER-t6dc40wx- :

Thank you for all your help and information. Even though I was anxious to get the info at first, I'm so very happy with the kind of help I've received. Being at the right place and the right time and being able to photograph what I saw was better than winning the lottery!! It was so thrilling I wouldn't trade it for anything.

JACUSTOMER-t6dc40wx- :

I thank everyone for helping and giving me info I'll probably never completely understand!!

Weather Guru, Meteorology-expert
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Experience: 12 Years Experience
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