Typically the afternoon commute home from the big city is uneventful—depending upon how many Wyoming drivers happen to be on the highways and byways. The more Wyoming drivers on the road the more exponentially the thrills rise . . . but that is another story for another day. The commute home this past Wednesday was fairly boring as I drove down the road—a semi-cloudy, cold day—nothing special. As least it was nothing special until I look up towards the Beartooth and Absaroka Mountains towards home. There it was . . . sitting in the sky . . . what I thought was a Sun Dog!
Turns out that it was not a Sun Dog at all, but a Rainbow Cloud. I enjoy the winter because it brings with it new weather-related phenomena—especially Sun Dogs. Typically one needs cold winter weather to see the phenomena of Sun Dogs. What are Sun Dogs? A Sun Dog (Scientific name parhelion meaning "beside the sun, also called a mock sun or a phantom sun.) is an atmospheric phenomenon that creates bright spots of light in the sky, often on a luminous ring or halo on either side of the sun. In the winter these are formed by the sun reflecting off of the ice crystals in the atmosphere. The lazy, unscientific me jumped to the conclusion that what I was seeing was, in fact, a Sun Dog. But it was not.
Instead what I was witnessing was a Rainbow Cloud. Now I had never heard of a Rainbow Cloud—I just assumed that they were Sun Dogs. Silly me! A Rainbow Cloud is a circumhorizontal arc that is an optical phenomenon--an ice-halo formed by plate-shaped ice crystals in high level cirrus clouds. I’m sure most of you already knew that. Had I not done of web searching about Sun Dogs I would have never known the difference. I would have gone on the rest of my days assuming that I was seeing Sun Dogs and would have been none the wiser for doing so. But now I know . .
Sun Dogs sound a lot cooler than Rainbow Clouds—probably more masculine and assertive. When you see a good display of a Sun Dog in the winter sky it kind of looks like a dog chasing another dog through a big circle in the sky. Legend has it that this is a good sign for hunters—that the hunting will be good. Sounds masculine, doesn’t it? Rainbow Clouds, on the other hand, doesn’t sound to testosterone-filled. Though they can be dramatic—depending on the sun, cloud cover, and temperature—they are usually just a splash of color in the clouds. Myth has it that Rainbow Clouds are an indicator of approaching earthquakes—but that is completely a myth with no factual scientific evidence to support it. In that department I think Rainbow Clouds trump Sun Dogs as far as masculinity goes.
So, now I know the difference. Either way, what I witnessed was pretty cool and turned a routine commute home into something special. Like many of you I learned growing up that the rainbow was God’s sign that God would not bring any more destruction upon the earth—a part of God’s covenant with humanity. Whenever we look to the sky and see the rainbow we are assured that God is with us, taking care of us, and will never harm us again. I like that symbol of assurance—it makes me feel good. It reminds me that I am still in God’s hand and God will not abandon me.
I can handle that . . . especially living here in Montana where the winters are long (real long) and cold. Maybe the winter won’t kill me after all—that I will survive. Yeah, that’s it . . . I saw a Rainbow Cloud and everyone knows that God won’t forget us!