WSAW - Blogs - Jeremy Tabin

Some Sun with a Chance of a Snowbow

So during the warm weather months we typically have a few opportunities to see rainbows arching across the horizon as rain on the backside of a storm combines with some sunshine.  Of course, the way to see a rainbow is to look in the opposite direction of where the sun is in the sky and you'll likely get an optical treat with a single or perhaps even double rainbow. However, as I was driving around town the last couple of days, I noticed we were getting snow showers in tandem with some sun. This made me wonder, can this cause a snowbow? The short answer is that getting that same arch of color with snowflakes is not as likely, simply because the difference in shape of the flakes (hexagons) versus rain drops (spheres). Based on some research I did, it appears the more likely phenomena would be either a halo around the sun, or just a pillar of color in the sky relatively close by to the sun. Usually one can spot halos around the sun when there isn't any precipitation falling but rather so long as some high cirrus clouds are floating by around the sun. The same can be seen at night, especially around the time of a full moon when these thin clouds overhead. The other aspect, a sun pillar or sun dog, is just a column of a "rainbow" in the clouds, usually at a 30 degree angle to the right and/or left of the sun. Once again this forms from the light bouncing off of the ice crystals in the clouds. However, seeing a snowbow is tough to come by. Considering the temperatures during these sun snow showers were in the single digits or teens, the snowflakes tend to be relatively small in size. If temperatures were higher in the mid 20s to lower 30s when the flakes tend to be larger, that would improve the odds some, but you still might not spot a snowbow. Even if you did see one, the colors would not be as brilliant compared to a rainbow. Nevertheless, I think the best chance of a snowbow would be if the snow were mixed with sleet or even rain. Of course then it would be more like an icebow or wintry mix-bow.

Anyhow, when the flakes are flying with the sun out, it can certainly make for some picturesque scenes. Although I didn't have a camera on me at the time, the filtered sunshine through flakes about 20 minutes before sunset on Monday certainly was a sight to see. If you do happen to catch a snowbow or rainbow for that matter, feel free to e-mail it to us through our webchannel.

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