Photography and text by Jonathan Carr
Earth’s hydrosphere represents all 1,386 million cubic kilometers of water found on our planet. This includes atmospheric water vapor, oceans, seas, lakes, ponds, streams, and all underground aquifers and reservoirs. For as long as this hydrosphere has existed, there has been prismatic wavelength refraction phenomena that we know as rainbows.
While rainbows have sparked numerous mythological beliefs over the course of human history, over the last half-millennium science has been able to offer an explanation. The setup criteria are simple. The observer needs to be between a light source, typically the sun, and condensed water vapor such as rain.
In the case of the sun being the light source, traditional solar rays penetrate raindrops, focus inward like a magnifying glass, separate into multiple colors of human visible spectrum and reflect off the back of the rain drop towards our line of sight. Sometimes a second order happens. The light re-reflects off the front of the rain drop, re-reflects off the back of the rain drop and makes it back to the observer as a double rainbow. While third and even fourth order rainbows are possible, most humans are limited to just a second order rainbow.
In many cases LBI’s thunderstorms form from orographic Appalachian Mountain lift and diurnal solar destabilization across the Eastern US. This typically results in thunderstorm development over the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys earlier in the afternoon with east coast storm arrival timed closely to the setting sun. This doesn’t happen every time but enough for me to notice a trend. This timing allows for optimal half-circle rainbows and double rainbows as the solar rays parallel the terrain just before sunset.
It’s very rare that you will see a rainbow from the ground when the sun is at peak mid-day angle. You would have to be at high altitude looking downward and that would actually form a full circle rainbow. You might have seen quarter-circle rainbows when the sun is not quite on the horizon but a few hours above. You also might have seen a small-scale rainbow when misting with a garden hose. The principals are the same whether small or large-scale. In my opinion, nothing beats the tall double half-circle rainbows as seen in the photo I took earlier this year. Folklore says there’s a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. For me, that pot of gold is the Jersey Shore.