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Did you see weird, wispy clouds Sunday in Metro Detroit? Here's why

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DETROIT – Did you see some wispy clouds yesterday that looked like these?  They sure were beautiful, and sure generated a lot of buzz – and questions!  What were they?

The answer is actually pretty simple. First of all, the actual clouds themselves were relatively normal cirrus clouds…high-altitude ice crystal clouds. 

If you were watching Local 4 News Today yesterday morning, perhaps you heard me mention that these clouds were blowing off the tops of some intense thunderstorms in the central plains, and would create a beautiful sky during the afternoon here over southeast Michigan.

What made these cirrus clouds special was the brilliant colors in some of them.  This is a phenomenon called iridescence. What happens is that the sun’s light is refracted (“bent”) when it travels through the ice crystals in those clouds.

If you’ve ever seen light shining through a prism, you know what happens next:  the “white light” of the sun is then broken down into its component colors.  This is the same effect that causes rainbows when sunlight travels through raindrops in the sky.

As long as the sun’s rays, the clouds, and you and I are at the correct angle, we get to see those colors.  And what a spectacular treat it was yesterday afternoon!
 


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