Strange Rainbow


Jon Larsen was driving home east of Spearfish, South Dakota, last Friday morning when he saw a rainbow.

“There was something wrong with it,” he says.  “I grabbed my camera and zoomed in for a closer look.”  This is what he saw.

The rainbow’s primary red band had separated from the rest!” says Larsen.

What happened? Atmospheric optics expert Les Cowley says there are at least two ways that rainbows can be distorted in this way:

First, by hot air: “This rainbow over Adelaide, Australia, was bent by columns of rising hot city air, but no cities appear to be near Jon Larsen’s rainbow,” says Cowley.

Second, by mixed-up raindrops: “Rainbows can appear distorted when there are differences in the size of the raindrops along lines of sight to different parts of the bow. Small drops give broader bows.”

The second explanation is probably correct. Larsen notes that “strong surface winds were blowing rain shafts around.” These strong winds may have segregated raindrops into layers of different size–small drops being blown about more easily than large ones–giving the ‘bow a strange appearance, indeed.



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