The Spectacular Fire Rainbow That Looks Like Flames in the Sky

circumhorizontal arc

The Spectacular Fire Rainbow That Looks Like Flames in the Sky

Have you ever seen a fire rainbow? Despite the name, this visual phenomenon has a few tricks up its sleeves. Since 2006, these stunning visual delights have been known as fire rainbows. If you ever wanted to learn all about them, you’re in the right place.

What is a Fire Rainbow?

fire rainbow
These stunning sights almost seem fake, but they are very real.

What we commonly call a fire rainbow isn’t made of fire at all. Instead, the scientific name for them is circumhorizontal arcs. These stunning sights only occur during certain conditions, so they are rare in some parts of the world.

How They’re Formed

fire rainbow
Sometimes, these can appear to have halos around the sun.

A fire rainbow has to have specific conditions to form. The ice crystals found in your average cloud have to face a certain way, the light has to hit at just the right angle. Most of the time, you won’t see anything. However, if things line up just right, you get a visual delight.

Frequency and Occurrences

fire rainbow
This is quite stunning, especially due to the presence of two rainbows.

Given the utter rarity of a fire rainbow occurring, it might come as a surprise that some places fare better than others. For example, Los Angeles, California is more likely to see these than somewhere that experiences more rainfall in the summer, like Dublin, Ireland.

Creating Your Own

fire rainbow
Some of these appear to be fire in the sky.

Curiously, you can make your own fire rainbow at home, at least in concept. It won’t have the same visual flare as the one you see in the sky. You’ll need a glass of water, and light emitting from below the edge of a table.

Similar Phenomena

fire rainbow
Occasionally, you can see these appear as fragments in the sky.

Your average fire rainbow can be confused with similar phenomena like cloud iridescence. However, this operates under diffraction, giving a different appearance compared to a circumhorizontal arc. Sun dogs and infralateral arcs are also often claimed to be a fire rainbow.

Is It Really a Rainbow?

circumhorizon arc
It does seem like magic how these appear in the sky.

A fire rainbow isn’t a rainbow, nor is it made of fire. Rainbows have specific conditions that have to be met. What you’re seeing in the sky instead is the result of the refraction of light when hitting ice crystals in a cloud.

Time of Day of Occurrence

circumhorizonal arc
When conditions line up just right, it creates a truly majestic sight.

Typically, you’ll see a fire rainbow in the summer in the afternoon, however, winter can yield great results as well. You need more sunlight than you might think. Cloud cover can vary as we’ll discuss.

The Right Conditions

cricumhorizon arc
I can’t think of a more perfect summer day than this.

The sun or moon needs to be in the right position in the sky. Ice crystals need to be present. Further, you’ll need cirrus or cirrostratus clouds to see a fire rainbow.

Stunning Images

rainbow clouds
This one resembles a fiery wing almost.

Sure, these might not be true rainbows. However, you can’t help but marvel at the stunning beauty of these fire rainbows. I think I’ll stick with calling them their more common name.

Have You Seen One?

circumhorizontal arc
While faint, this still has the same sort of magic.

Have you seen a fire rainbow? I got to see one during an exceptionally rare snowfall in my area. The amount of ice in the sky made conditions line up just right so I could witness it after the clouds parted in the middle of the night.

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