Fire rainbows aren’t actually rainbows and they have nothing to do with fire, either. Technically known as circumhorizontal arcs, these optical phenomena occur when the sun is higher than 58° in the sky. The other ingredient forming these arcs are cirrus clouds, which are thin, feathery clouds occurring at higher altitudes. The temperature where these clouds exist is low; therefore, they are made of hexagonal ice crystals. When optimally aligned, these crystals act as a prism and that results in refraction that is reminiscent of a rainbow.

There is a popular misconception that such halos are rare. However, their frequency depends on location in particular latitude. In the United States, it is relatively common to see them several times each summer, while the phenomenon is quite rare in mid-latitude and northern Europe. So, for example, the potential for these “fire rainbows” to form in Los Angeles is 5-10 times higher than in London.

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Photographer Cessna Kutz captured a magnificent fire rainbow over Lake Sammamish

Image credits: Cessna Kutz

“Witnessed a pretty cool phenomenon out on lake Sammamish today,” Cessna writes on her Instagram upon sharing the mesmerizing shot. “A horizontal rainbow! To me, it was a little reminder to hold onto hope and love instead of fear and panic in these unknown times. Stay safe out there, friends.”

It’s an optical phenomenon that occurs when the sun is higher than 58° above the horizon

Image credits: Cessna Kutz

After the photographer shared the photos, they almost instantly went viral. “I honestly had no idea these photos would make the news,” Cessna shared with one news outlet. “I was just wanting to share a beautiful moment I got to witness. I’m super passionate about photography so I’m grateful that God has used my photos to touch people, not only throughout the nation but throughout the world. It’s boosted my photography business as well as make an impact on people so it feels pretty amazing.”

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