Colorful Clouds: Sun Dogs Fire Rainbows And More

Colorful Clouds: Sun Dogs Fire Rainbows And More

On May 10, 2017 I was sent a photo of a colorful patch of clouds across the sky. It was something called a fire rainbow. Neither a fire or a rainbow, but something in the sky that can show up in many ways and give that artistic streak above, on a sunny day.  We can thank cirrus clouds, usually 20,000 Ft aloft or higher for the show. The ice crystals at this cold level can act like millions of prisms to break up the sunlight, much like a rainbow. This stretches the colors out, if the angle of the sun is right. The thing is, there is a similarity, but distinct difference to other colorful phenomena such as sun dog, solar halo, glory, iridescent, and noctilucent clouds.

—> slider: Fire Rainbow Photos

  • Fire Rainbow

Note: The laws of physics break up white light into all colors of the visible spectrum in the same order, all the time. So when you see them, ROY G BIV is on display. When you see a double rainbow, then secondary arch has the colors reverse. but they will always be Red, Orange, Yellow, Green Blue, Indigo, and Violet. See more like this vivid display from last April

Cirrus clouds are often visible to us on the ground on the edge of storms systems. They tend to be a signal of a change in weather as a storm system is approaching or departing. The high, thin clouds can allow sunlight to pass through, but sometimes break up the light into colors in different displays.  When I shared Faith’s fire rainbow, a few people called them sun dogs. But there is a difference.

Fire Rainbow: Most common in the middle of the day (late morning to early afternoon). Often a streak of color that might appear flat and below in relation to the sun.

Sun Dog: Most common later in the afternoon when the sun is lower in the sky. There will appear to be a bright patch on either side or both sides of the sun. It is sometimes referred to as a second sun.  But seen on the same level or solar plane to the left or right.

Solar Halo: This is the refraction of the sunlight in a layer of cirrus that shows a ring around the sun (sometimes a near full moon as well). This also can indicate a change in weather in the next 24 to 36 hours.

Circumzenethial Arc: in a rare case, there may be a bright spot appearing to be above the sun with an upside-down rainbow curving away. Again, this is a late afternoon (or early morning) event. The sun must be lower than 32.2° and best when 22º above the horizon. One of these is in this slide show. There are even more… below

—> slider: Sun Dog Photos

  • sun dog


More Colorful Clouds


This is a special scene often seen in an airplane where there is a deck of clouds below. The fuselage blocks the sun, and the light forced to curve around the shadow shows up as a rainbow like circle around the shadow of the plan below. See more in this article I wrote in March of 2016.


Pileus Iridescent

A strong developing thunderstorm can rise rapidly and force water vapor or ice crystals above the cloud top to condense in a layer at the top of the troposphere. This storm over Etheopia documented by NASA put on an amazing display. Not only did it look like a rainbow cap, but the dark waves gave an indications to the wind flow being disrupted or directed by the storm as well.


Noctilucent Clouds

This is a special breed of the highest clouds on earth. They are way above our weather layer (troposphere). they can be 50 miles above the surface, in the mesosphere… and near the poles. They are made of ice crystals that seem to glow in the dark. Being at such a high altitude, then can catch sunlight while it is dark at the surface below. The angle of the incoming sunlight plus the structure of the ice crystals give off the blue glow. NASA’s Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere has been studying this for 10 years.


Data from NASA’s Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere, or AIM, spacecraft shows the sky over Antarctica glowing electric blue due to noctilucent, or night-shining, clouds. This data was collected from Nov. 17-28, 2016.

noctilucent clouds NASA


See The Sky Clearly- Without Glasses

Get $1000 of LASIK Like I Did and enter to win $250 Sunglasses


Maryland Trek

Be part of my 4th annual hike and bike across Maryland this August. See my trek page and sign up for information to do one day, the whole week, or even sponsor this great event.

Milestones this year:

  • I will do my 1000th mile
  • We aim to reach $100,000 for Cool Kids Campaign

Get the award winning Kid Weather App I made with my oldest son and support our love for science, weather, and technology. Our 3 year anniversary of the release and our contribution to STEM education is this November. It has been downloaded in 60 countries, and works in both temperature scales. With your support we can expand on the fun introduction to science and real weather.

Please share your thoughts, best weather pics/video, or just keep in touch via social media

Faith in the Flakes

The store is closing for the season. Next week we wil be shifting back to spring mode. This will include a severe weather STEM assembly program.