Fire Rainbows and Fire Tornadoes

June 6, 2016
Fire Rainbow

South Carolina reported seeing a “fire rainbow” on August 16, 2015. Then two days later, a “fire tornado” swirled through the skies over Idaho. 

Nature never ceases to surprise (and delight) us! What are these rare phenomena? Interesting, these two events represent both hot and cold weather.

What is a Firenado?

Fire tornadoes occur when the updrafts from the heat carry flaming debris up a hundred feet or more. Higher winds catch the updraft and swirl it. Think of a dust devil—a really hot dust devil. They rarely develop enough speed to actually become a tornado but occasionally do grow to giant fire storms.

The fire tornado or firenado in Idaho was a wicked swirl of wind over the giant, burning Soda Fire. Fortunately this one swirled, posed for the camera, and died out.

A firenado. Source: USMC.

What is a Fire Rainbow?

By contrast, a fire rainbow is caused by ice! It looks like rainbow flames in the sky! However, it is actually sunlight reflected off of ice crystals, like a normal rainbow is sunlight reflecting off of raindrops.

Fire rainbows are actually caused by ice. Source: Dehk at Wikipedia.

Technically, a fire rainbow is the bottom of a Circumhorizontal arc or an ice halo. The cold icy upper atmosphere reflects sunlight or bright moonlight.Sometimes it just forms a ring or arc of bright light, although the light sometimes forms a straight line (a sun pillar) or bright spots (sun dogs). 

However, if the viewers’ angle is just right, the light is broken into a rainbow of colors. It can look like an upside down rainbow in the sky or, if smeared by icy clouds, multi-colored flames.

For a wonderful hour this month, rainbow lights danced in the skies over the Isle of Palms South Carolina—an island just outside of Charleston.

Ice hockey isn’t the only miracle on ice—an ice halo with sun dogs and a sun pillar. Source: Gabor Szilasi, Wikipedia.

So yes, it's summer and the skies are filled with hot air. But sometimes when you look up, you see wonders!

What do you think of these rare phenomena? Please share below.

 

About This Blog

The column, “Weather Whispers,” is authored by James Garriss and Evelyn Browning Garriss, historical climatologists and weather addicts!  Whether you enjoy the science of weather or the fascinating folklore or just fun weather phenomena, it’s probably covered by these weather watchers!

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