A Special October Evening, 10-24-18


It rained all night, and then all day. As the sun set, the rain began to let up, producing what I call the “yellow light” and a rainbow. What makes the yellow light that one sees only in these conditions? This is how it was once explained to me:  As a rainstorm (in the west) dissipates, it may leave behind a low ceiling of clouds. This ceiling will often be close above the western horizon, and will thus create a narrow gap through which the rays of the sun will pass. That gap acts as a filter to the sun’s rays, and is responsible for the yellow color of the light. The most striking example of such I’ve ever seen was on a stormy evening as I and friends drove west from Salt Lake City, with a low ceiling of clouds over the Great Salt Lake ahead of us. This created a uniform horizontal gap, which acted as the filter. Behind us, to the east, a perfectly horizontal yellow band of filtered sunlight illuminated the base of the Wasatch Mountains.

As to rainbows, the usual case is that rainstorms move to the east over our house. As they dissipate in the evening, the sun to the west creates rainbows in the remainder of the storm to the east (although some of these photos show a rainbow more to the north).

CottonwoodsDSCN3932-Edit

View to the north, of cottonwood trees and rainbow across the river from our house

Cliff&CloudDSCN3937

Extreme telephoto of cliff edge on La Mesita mesa in dispersing cloud. view to the southwest

Apricot&PistachioDSCN3917

Apricot tree (below) and pistachio tree, by our house, view to the north

PistachioTreeSim.10DSCN3916

Add cottonwood tree to the above

Pistachio&RainbowDSCN3924-Edit

Pistachio tree and rainbow, view to the west

RainbowBZDSCN3936

Cottonwoods and rainbow, across the river from our house, view to the north

p.s. a brief Google search did not turn up confirmation of what I said above about the storm filtering of sunlight. Can anyone offer confirmation or otherwise?

About believesteve

I am a photographer and have published a book of photography and accompanying text on running the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. The first (print) edition is out of print, but a second edition is available as an iBook (eBook) through the iTunes bookstore. All Grand Canyon, river and nature lovers will enjoy my book: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-grand/id672492447?ls=1 I have also published two additional iBooks: 1. The Salt River: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-salt-river/id1244922282?mt=11 2. Coyote Buttes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/coyote-buttes/id1271773201?mt=11
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4 Responses to A Special October Evening, 10-24-18

  1. Jackson says:

    Well, low-angle light always starts shifting towards yellow and red due to atmospheric filtering. That’s why the Golden Hour is golden. And light breaking through a gap under storm clouds is always going to be low-angle. Heavy storm clouds also tend to be quite blue, so we perceive the complimentary yellow light as more intense due to the color contrast. Dark/light contrast helps too. I do wonder whether additional humidity and haze in stormy conditions might intensify the low-angle filtering somewhat, but a rather doubt anyone’s measured that to scientific standards. Regardless, storm light is always my favorite light!

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  2. believesteve says:

    Thanks. And, it appears that you have not heard of the specific explanation I offered. Any idea as to how I could research that explanation?

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    • Jackson says:

      No, I’ve never heard of the gap itself acting as a special filter. Honestly, I’m not sure precisely what that phrase would even mean. To be a measurable phenomenon, something would have to be doing the filtering (a “gap” isn’t something, it’s lack of something). Again, my money would be on water vapor. If I were going to research it, I’d look into atmospheric phenomena and effects of moisture/water vapor on color of light. If I were going to do actual field research, an interesting place to start would be comparing light that breaks through small gaps in clouds at different angles.

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