I try to make a habit of glancing skyward when I’m out and about, for the ever-changing sky is a dynamic “canvas” that can add a delightful spice to an otherwise familiar, everyday scene.
Time and again I have admired how dashes of the sun’s color, often times liberally applied through the crystal filter of airborne moisture, can do wonders for the “personality” of sea, terrain or firmament.
During those special moments rich in hues, land and sea are transformed into something altogether different than what we thought we knew before – and the results are as stunning as they are memorable.
On those rare occasions, such moments will push beyond the boundaries of beauty into the realm of marvel.
On June 2, 2011, while driving back from a work visit to Owls Head Light, I happened to gaze skyward and noticed a splash of color that made me do a double-take. At first I thought my sunglasses, which tend to douse everything with a tint of amber, were playing tricks on me, but after quickly lifting the shades above my head, the scene remained unchanged.
At this point I had to pull over to the side of the road, for there stretched across a bright sky busy with bustling cloud traffic, was what I later came to learn to be a rainbow cloud.
The colorful rainbow cloud was a riveting view – and if not rare in nature, I knew for certain that I had not ever witnessed such a phenomenon prior, so I snapped away at its appearance before the fleeting opportunity took leave of the apex it occupied.
Within minutes the rainbow cloud, which appeared as soft taffy being stretched and twisted, was gone.
Curious as to what I observed, I discovered a rainbow cloud is a brightly colored halo that appears parallel to the horizon when the sun is higher than 58° in the sky.
On most occasions only fragments of the halo are visible, and usually when there are cirrus clouds present. In simple terms, the physics behind the rainbow cloud are dense ice crystals refracting the sun’s light. The prime time for this phenomenon to appear is around noontime in middle latitudes, which was right around the time the rainbow cloud I noticed appeared over Owls Head.
The rainbow cloud may have been the most spectacular sighting I enjoyed on June 2nd, but it was not the only highlight. Throughout the day puffy clouds accented a bright blue sky, yet despite their friendly demeanor, there was an air of mystery about them as well.
A stiff breeze blowing 15 to 20 knots made sure the atmosphere didn’t grow stale throughout the day, but by sunset, it seemed as if there was going to be a showdown between an intimidating cloudbank stretching across the seascape and a series of wispy clouds trying hard to spread evening cheer in an otherwise conflicted sky.
In the end, the setting sun splashed ample hues of oranges and purples upon a wall of dark blue vapor, disarming the cloudbank’s menacing appearance, and all the while, further softening the friendly puffs too.
The dashes of color inspired a scene of majestic splendor and served as a fitting final act to a memorable day of theatre in the sky.