May 03, 2021

A Nighttime "Light Pillar" Plus Weather Cam Poetry

A relatively unusual optical effect is the nighttime "light pillar"--  vertical lines in the sky at night produced by the reflection of a surface light source by ice crystals aloft.  

Consider the beautiful example of a light pillar last night, captured by weather cam maestro Greg Johnson of Skunk Bay Weather (see below).  The image was taken at 3:04 AM, looking north from Kitsap Peninsula towards southern Whidbey Island.  Unsettling.

Picture courtesy of Greg Johnson, Skunk Bay Weather

Perhaps you would enjoy a video of these ghostly features:

They are almost scary....but very beautiful at the same time.

Light pillars are associated with falling ice crystals and a view of the infrared satellite imagery at 3 AM confirms that clouds over western Washington were sufficiently high (see below) to produce such ice particles.  White clouds in the infrared indicate that the cloud tops are sufficiently cold.

As impressive as last night light pillars were, they can really get wild (see below)

Courtesy of Timmyjoeelzinga and a Creative Common license

Why Do Light Pillars Occur?

Light pillars are associated with large, hexagonal (six-sided) ice crystals that tend to be oriented in a horizontal configuration as they fall ( see graphic).

 Courtesy of V1adis1av

Such falling ice crystals act as small reflectors of light originating from the surface, providing the optical illusion of a vertical column of light.    

A close cousin of the nighttime light pillar is the sun pillar, often viewed near sunrise and sunset (see below)

Picture courtesy of Brocken Inaglory

A Major Treat

At the end of Northwest Weather Workshops, we often sit back and enjoy the extraordinary weather videos created by Greg Johnson of Skunk Bay Weather, who brings together weather cam imagery and music in ways that are both moving emotionally and highly educational.    Below is Greg's video for this year's workshop..... it is an extraordinary pleasure to watch.  And don't be surprised if your eyes don't moisten up a bit....


  1. Beautiful and otherworldly like Red Sprites...

  2. Would like to know the music that Greg used for this - lovely!

  3. Hi Kenmore Reader. The music on my video was performed by Ludovico Einaudi.

  4. Could these light pillars explain some of the "UFO" sightings that have cropped up recently?

  5. (Cliff - a question not related to this post: An AP article yesterday "America’s new normal temperature 1 degree higher than 2 decades ago", this statement caught my attention "The new normal annual U.S. temperature is 1.7 degrees (0.9 Celsius) hotter than the first normal calculated for 1901 to 1930." I don't know how the accuracy of normal temperature were then vs. now, but his seems to say we are only 0.7 degrees warmer than 100 years ago. True? -Dale)

  6. Yes...we are about 1C warmer than 100 years ago. Not exactly the end of the world. And a portion of that warming may be natural. A good example of why folks have to be careful about the hype and exaggeration...cliff

    1. Hi Cliff, if the 1991-2020 climate normals are not based off satellite data how much of the warming is because of the urban heat effect?

  7. Great info, gorgeous video, and now I have the name of who I can listen to for magnificent music. Thank you!

  8. What kind of camera is pointed at the sky that can see things at night like those columns?


    1. It is a normal DSLR camera. Canon T6 Rebel to be specific.


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