In the transition tonight from the Ed Show to The Rachel Maddow Show, what we call "the toss," Ed shared a picture with Rachel of what he called a double sun dog. Jump to 4:33 in this video to see it. If you don't have video, that's ok, it looks a lot like the one above except Ed's is from Big Detroit Lake in Minnesota and the one above is from Fargo, but the phenomenon is the same.
I'd never heard of such a thing, but it turns out I am more familiar with them than I realized, as you'll soon see.
The scientific name for those extra spots of light is "parhelion" and NOAA explains that they appear as the result of sunlight refraction though ice crystals in cirrus clouds. Sunlight refracting though moisture in clouds sounds like the definition of a rainbow to me, so I think what we're talking about here is essentially an ice rainbow. (Cirrus clouds are the whispy ones and they're formed when water vapor turns into tiny ice crystals.)
But wait, meet me after the jump for a cool realization...
So I'm looking through parihelion photos online for this very blog post and I come upon this fellow's Parhelion Above Arc de Triomphe photo.
He took his in August, but I understand cirrus clouds always have ice crystals so the season doesn't necessarily matter. The Arc de Triomphe photo is only of the sun dog, with the sun out of frame, and it occurred to me that I'd seen just such a colorful splotch in the sky over New York City just the other day.
I took the photo below from my kitchen window on New Year's Day at about 3:50 p.m. ET. At the time I thought it was the beginnings of a rainbow and I was disappointed when the clouds shifted a little and it just went away. It seems pretty obvious now that in fact, it's a sun dog.
Definitely cirrus clouds. Not a double sun dog like Ed got, but the right color (red on the sun side), height (level with the sun), and placement (I used this compass overlay , aligned the landmarks of the Williamsburg Bridge and the World Trade Center with my kitchen, and eyeballed it as pretty darn close to the 22 degrees it's supposed to be.)
So how 'bout that?