Dogs and Weather—Sun Dogs

January 29, 2016
Pouting Dog

It’s never pretty when a dog pouts!

Evelyn Browning Garriss

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Never write a weather blog about your cat if you have a dog. It will pout. It’s never pretty.

To maintain peace in the household, I’ve been forced to write a new blog about weather and dogs. Cats may “predict” weather, but phantom suns are called sun dogs.

Sun dogs, or parhelia, are the canine cousins of rainbows. Sometimes they look like bright pieces of rainbows on either side of the sun. Other times they are brighter and actually look like two extra suns.

Indeed, they are frequently called “mock suns” or “phantom suns”. The most common name, however, for these bright lights that faithfully follow the sun is sun dogs.

Sundogs – Source Wikipedia

Both rainbows and sundogs are formed by moisture filtering the sunlight. Rainbows form when drops of rain act as prisms, breaking sunlight into a multitude of colors. Sundogs appear when sunlight hits clouds of ice crystals and the ice acts as prisms.

Like rainbows, sundogs are created when sunlight is filtered by moisture in the sky. Used by permission HyperPhysics, C.R. Nave Georgia State University

There are some differences, however. You see rainbows when you look away from the sun. You see sundogs when you look toward the sun. If the ice crystals are falling flat, then you see a bright point of light on either side of the sun. (This is easier to see if the sun is rising or setting) Probably the biggest difference between the two is that a rainbow usually signals an end to the rain, while a sundog often means that rain, or snow is on the way.

In medieval times, the three bright lights were sometimes interpreted as the sign of the trinity, a sign of great fortune. Nowadays, they are a sign that you were lucky to be looking at the sky at just the right time. You get to see those faithful companions of our sun—sundogs.

About This Blog

Are you a weather watcher? Welcome to “Weather Whispers” by James Garriss and until recently, Evelyn Browning Garriss. With expertise and humor, this column covers everything weather—from weather forecasts to WHY extreme weather happens to ways that weather affects your life from farming to your grocery bill. Enjoy weather facts, folklore, and fun!

With heavy hearts, we share the news that historical climatologist and immensely entertaining Almanac contributor Evelyn Browning Garriss passed away in late June 2017. Evelyn shared her lifetime of weather knowledge with Almanac editors and readers, explaining weather phenomena in conversation and expounding on topics in articles for the print edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac as well as in these articles. We were honored to know and work with her as her time allowed, which is to say when she was not giving lectures to, writing articles for, and consulting with scientists, academia, investors, and government agencies around the world. She will be greatly missed by the Almanac staff and readers.