This week, a magnificent weather phenomena was observed over parts of Virginia known as “rainbow clouds.”
A rainbow cloud is characterized by the appearance of a dazzling prism of color behind a background of fluffy clouds.
WUSA-TV, the local CBS affiliate in Washington, D.C., received many stunning images of the occurrence from multiple individuals residing in Hamilton, Virginia.
“Cloud iridescence forms when the water droplets or ice crystals in the cloud diffract the light around the outside of the droplet, as opposed to bending the light through it,” The Weather Channel meteorologist Jen Carfagno told CBS News.
“The colors of the spectrum are not as neat and organized in iridescence as in a rainbow,” Carfagno added. “Cloud iridescence reminds me of pixie dust or unicorn sprinkles.”
However, rainbow clouds are not nearly as common as people might think.
These magnificent clouds are actually pretty rare, according to Carfango. In fact, they are usually only seen around the polar regions of the planet, or in mountainous areas during the winter.
In order to exist, rainbow clouds must be close to the sun.
They must also be extremely wispy and composed of ice crystals or water droplets that are of the same size. The iridescence of rainbow clouds occurs most frequently in lenticular or alto-cumulus clouds, as well as in cirrus and cirrocumulus clouds.
“In the case from this week in Northern Virginia, what happened was that a pileus cloud, AKA a ‘cap cloud,’ formed on top of a late afternoon cumulonimbus cloud,” Carfagno explained. “This cap cloud is a common feature on top of strong thunderstorms.”
Due to the fact that they form as a result of the diffraction or refraction of light, rainbow clouds are comparable to a rainbow, halo, sundog, and circumhorizontal arc.
The ones spotted over Virginia have been described as psychedelic in color, which according to Carfagno, is a good description because it reveals a hint about the cloud type.
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