Upside down rainbow amazes local woman

By Andrew Freiden - bio | email
Posted by Phil Riggan - email

HANOVER, VA (WWBT) - Who knew a typical day on the deck would turn into an afternoon to remember? It happened to Bess Fifer in Mechanicsville, who saw an "upside down rainbow" in the sky.

Fifer has been watching the skies for years - keeping an eye out for rainbows and other treats.  But this "smile in the sky" was a best ever for her!

"In 69 years, watching the signs in the skies, never have I ever seen anything like that," Fifer said.

And she might never again. On that day, conditions were just right for her to catch a rare upside down rainbow. And it happened without a drop of rain in the sky.

"It was May the 22nd... starting in the early afternoon," Fifer said.

When Bess looked overhead, she saw what's technically called a circumzenithal arc. And she didn't catch a run-of-the-mill circumzenithal arc.

"It was an upside down rainbow!" Fifer said.

So what causes this?  Unlike a rainbow which is formed when the sun's rays pass through raindrops - this forms when sunlight passes through a high, wispy cloud made of ice crystals - a cirrus cloud.

The sun has to be low in the sky. And you the ice crystals have to be shaped like this. It's called a plate crystal. So here's how it works. The suns' rays enter the top of the crystal and exit the side. When they do so, the light is separated into very pure colors.

"I've never seen anything like it and I don't expect I'll ever see anything like it again," Fifer said.

So even on regular old days when it's not raining - keep your eye on the skies. You never know what will be smiling back at you.

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