A Rainbow Encounter

Have YOU ever driven through a Rainbow?

November 30, 2021

When I was in fifth grade, my teacher Miss Crosslin, loved to teach us science. It was in her classroom one day when she darkened the room and then shone a light through a prism. A rainbow leaped across the space, my attention riveted on this amazing phenomenon.

Rainbows are created when light is refracted through prisms

I learned that a natural rainbow is the result of light being refracted through millions of droplets of water. The Infallible Wikipedia informs:

“When sunlight encounters a raindrop, part of the light is reflected and the rest enters the raindrop. The light is refracted at the surface of the raindrop. When this light hits the back of the raindrop, some of it is reflected off the back. When the internally reflected light reaches the surface again, once more some is internally reflected and some is refracted as it exits the drop. (The light that reflects off the drop, exits from the back, or continues to bounce around inside the drop after the second encounter with the surface, is not relevant to the formation of the primary rainbow.) The overall effect is that part of the incoming light is reflected back over the range of 0° to 42°, with the most intense light at 42°. This angle is independent of the size of the drop, but does depend on its refractive index. Seawater has a higher refractive index than rain water, so the radius of a ‘rainbow’ in sea spray is smaller than a true rainbow. This is visible to the naked eye by a misalignment of these bows.”

While the scientific explanation provides the why and how, the rest of the equation has to do with the human response. It is, perhaps, the most noticed phenomenon in nature and one which causes people everywhere to stop and notice.

A double Rainbow which appeared the morning of January 1, 2020. The photo is looking west from my sister’s home in Selah, Washington. The hubby and I were headed home that morning, and we saw multiple Rainbows as we traveled.

I chose today to discuss rainbows since it was on this date in 2017 when a single rainbow was observed for nearly nine hours! The Guinness Book of World records shares:

“The longest lasting rainbow observation is 8 hours and 58 minutes and was achieved by Chinese Culture University (Chinese Taipei) at Yangmingshan, Taipei, Chinese Taipei, on 30 November 2017.”

The world record rainbow in Taipei on November 30, 2017. Not only was it the longest but several different Rainbow phenomena were present that day.

Rainbows have been referenced throughout human history. I imagine that most Americans are familiar with, for example, the story of Noah and the appearance of the ‘bow in the clouds’ as a sign from God that he will never again destroy the world. The rainbow has been a sign of hope, and used as such, throughout history. A myriad of organizations, businesses, and movements have adopted the rainbow as their symbol. All of which speaks to the universal experience of seeing one.

In addition to a regular rainbow, they’ve been observed with double arcs, and full circle rainbows have been seen from planes. There are also twinned, supernumerary, reflection, and monochrome rainbows.

One thing the Infallible Wikipedia did NOT cover was something I experienced and posted on Facebook a few years ago:

Photo I took of a rainbow in North Bend, Washington, March 2016. About 15 minutes later I ‘drove’ through it.

“Have you ever driven through a rainbow? I’ve done it twice. It’s an incredibly intense experience. The first time was in September 2005 as I was driving a van load of girls back from a trip to the beach. The second time was a year ago March on my way to Yakima. Here’s what happens. The sun is behind you creating the rainbow through the prism of raindrops. As you get closer and closer the light and the colors get more intense until, at last the two merge together in brilliance. A moment later you are enveloped by the sky which has turned dark and gray. The legend is that the rainbow vanishes as the searcher approaches. .. I think that more accurately it vanishes behind you. Here’s the rainbow I drove through about 15 minutes after this photo was taken in North Bend in March 2016.”

I will elaborate a bit further. I was headed southeast and up the hill out of North Bend, Washington, heading across Snoqualmie Pass to Yakima. The rainbow, ever present, shifted from my left side and was now directly in front of me. It grew larger and larger; the rain poured down. I could sense that at some point the rain was going to win out against the sun which was now shining directly from behind me. At the instant it happened, the world was bathed with intense color – red mostly – and a moment later the brilliance evaporated, leaving only a monotone world of grays as if someone had switched off the color.

I think that the automobile is what makes this phenomenon possible as you can travel at a speed which allows you to move out of the sunlight. Even a hundred years ago I doubt it occurred. I can find no recorded accounts (besides my own) of this sort of event happening. My wish for everyone is to experience it once. It truly was one of the most memorable things I’ve ever encountered.

The links:




One thought on “A Rainbow Encounter

  1. It happened to me once on the Kitsap Peninsula on the way to Port Angeles. It gave me goosebumps when it went over the hood of the car. I think the trick is that you have to be driving.

    I saw a full circle rainbow from a plane too.


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