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Chasing Moon Halos Around the Central Oregon Coast and Their Connection to Weather

Published 5/23/24 at 12:45 a.m.
By Andre' Hagestedt, Oregon Coast Beach Connection


(Depoe Bay, Oregon) – The things you discover while wandering the coastline, even at night. In fact, this one was a combo of astronomy, meteorology and what I nicknamed beach vacation-ology. All of it came together on one night that caused us to kind of chase moon halos around the central Oregon coast late into the wee hours. (All photos Oregon Coast Beach Connection)

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Some brilliant examples of a moon halo were seen above Depoe Bay and Gleneden Beach in the early hours of this particular early fall night – something that is often the harbinger of cold weather. Yet in this case it paradoxically happened just before some really warm weekend weather.

The photographs here show the moon halo from Depoe Bay and the areas around the Whale Watch Center.

Moon halos are the result of tiny ice crystals lurking high in the sky, usually around 20,000 feet above and existing as thin, wispy clouds.

A lot of times you may not notice these kinds of clouds until night falls because they're hard to see during the day. But their effect on moonlight makes them pop out.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said these do interesting things to moonlight.

Also see: Moon Halo or Lunar Corona: What You're Seeing on Washington Coast / Oregon Coast Both are the product of refraction and are lovely

“In the atmosphere, under certain conditions, water drops and ice crystals can act as a prism, allowing us to see the various colors that make up visible light,” NOAA said. “Its because of these properties that we get the various atmospheric optical effects.”

The incoming light rays are bent – or refracted – as they pass through the ice crystals, sometimes pushing them to an angle of 22 degrees. This translates to a circle of 22 degrees around the moon.

“Refraction is the change in direction of a wave (in this case light) due to a change in its speed,” NOAA said. “This is most commonly observed when a wave passes from one medium to another at any angle other than 90° or 0°.”

Essentially, light passes through an ice crystal or water droplet in the air, and it's then broken down into its component colors. This can create a rainbow effect with the moon halo, but usually it's a massive, white ring.

Interestingly enough, one of the shots shows a rainbow-like span of colors within the ring. This has to do with a lighter exposure in the camera.

Often, these kind of clouds with ice crystals mean rain or snow are coming soon, frequently the forerunners of storm clouds right behind. That is an old legend, actually, but there is some truth to it. It's not the presence of ice crystals, really, it's the cirrostratus clouds that can mean that.

Yet that's not always a determiner of weather. This did not quite appear to be so for the Oregon coast, at least when these were shot, as the forecast for the weekend called for mostly sunny skies and temps near a balmy 70 degrees.

That time of year brings what is called the “Second Summer” to the coast: the warmest weather of the year happens in September and early October. Back when these were photographed years ago, the following days were living up to that with gorgeous weather.

Below: the moon begins to rise over Cape Lookout State Park just after dusk, on that same Thursday these were photographed.

Even more awesome: these kinds of clouds can bring a sun halo, which is also loads of fun to find the Oregon or Washington coast. That happened in early May, 2024, actually, as numerous people spotted that on the north coast, mostly in Tillamook County.

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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