Rare 'fire rainbow' caught on camera

Published: Aug. 17, 2015 at 3:56 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 17, 2015 at 10:33 PM EDT
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ISLE OF PALMS, SC (WCSC) - If you were looking toward the sky over the Lowcountry on Sunday, you may have seen an unusual and rare spectacle: a "fire rainbow."

Viewers across the area submitted photos of the phenomenon, also known as "iridescent clouds." To some, the cloud resembled a multi-colored angel hovering overhead.

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Viewer Tracey Smith captured a photo of the cloud while visiting the Isle of Palms and said it reminded her of a dear friend who had recently passed away.

"I'm sure she came to visit us on the beach we all love! We miss you Leslie!" she wrote.

Smith said the cloud formation lasted for about an hour.

According to Meteorologist Justin Lock, a strict set of conditions are required for fire rainbows to appear. First, they only occur in high-level cirrus clouds made up of tiny ice crystals.

"To produce the rainbow colors the sun's rays must enter the ice crystals at a precise angle to give the prism effect of the color spectrum," Lock said, adding the sun must be at an altitude of at least 58 degrees above the horizon. "Again, it has to do with getting the precise angle."

Lock says we often see the same kind of thing occur with colorful sunsets in which high-level cirrus clouds produce many colors because of the low angle of the sun reflecting and diffracting light, producing brilliant reds, oranges and purples.

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