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Three Trippy Tricks of the Sky on Oregon / Washington Coast: Green Flash and More

Published 09/18/20 at 5:41 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Three Trippy Tricks of the Sky on Oregon / Washington Coast: Green Flash and More

(Ilwaco, Washington) – Let’s face it, the sky is a freak sometimes. Especially if you’re one to really notice the subtleties of what’s happening up there (not everyone is). (Photo above: green flash, courtesy NOAA's Phil Manougian)

Along the coastlines of Oregon and Washington, weather phenomena can be downright unusual and intriguing, presenting sights you just don’t understand. It’s such a turbulent air stream out there beyond the shoreline, one which creates wonders that are even more astounding if you know what to look for.

Here are three that will blow your mind.

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Green Flash at Sunset. For decades, people who’d reported seeing this were ridiculed, until about the ‘70s when it was actually documented on film.

Now, it’s one of the most coveted sights on the Washington or Oregon coast.

Essentially, what you’ll see is the last, tiny bit of the sun at sunset turn green, or perhaps you’ll see a small green blur above the sun. It varies greatly with each occurrence, and it’s unforgivingly difficult to photograph. Strangely, Oregon Coast Beach Connection has snapped a few photos of the Green Flash at Sunset with a crummy lo-fi digital camera, but never been able to snag it with the higher-end apparatuses.

Essentially, this comes from so many layers of the atmosphere between you and the sunset that it cuts out all the color bands except for the green at the very last moment. It takes just the right conditions, usually requiring there be no clouds on the horizon.

The normal mass of the atmosphere if you look straight up is called one air zenith, basically one layer of atmosphere. However, looking out across the sea to the horizon is something like an air mass of 107. If conditions are right, the last sliver of sun will have the blue and red refracted and hidden from your eyes, leaving the green - all because of those layers.

Hitting a high vantage point on the Washington or Oregon coast helps.

Novaya Zemlya. This is the weirdo but more oft-seen cousin of the green flash, and actually you can see a green flash within this effect.

If you look out at the sunset and suddenly it has two or three heads above it (sometimes resembling a spooky mushroom cloud), that is the Novaya Zemlya.

This effect creates an illusion where it seems the sun is setting later than it really is – a kind of double-headed sunset or even a triple one. In the simplest terms, it's a kind of polar image mirage of the sun right above itself.

Again, refraction is the key (the bending of light). But here it has to do with weather layers out in the distance. These layers create a thin slit or two that causes the sun to project through, then aided by the fact sunlight is traveling along the curve of the Earth. You’re sometimes seeing a projection of the sun through layers even a while after it’s set.

It happens more often in higher latitudes, so it’s entirely possible the northern Washington coast could see this more than its Oregon counterparts. They may also contain the green flash, but it’s harder to see.

Photo courtesy Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium

Sun Dogs. These are not exclusive to beaches and definitely can happen inland. Sun dogs are technically part of a larger group of phenomena that encompasses halos – both sun and moon halos. However, sun dogs are rarer and unlike halos – where there’s a massive arc around the moon or sun – these are two blob-like spots of light on either side of the sun. They also go by the names sun dog, mock sun or parhelion; their scientific name is parhelia.

Once again, refraction is the key element. However, these are created by ice crystals in the sky, meaning you primarily see these on colder days. Scientists say these crystals have a hexagonal shape, sitting high in the atmosphere in very cold air. These act like prisms, bending the light and making interesting, luminous shapes. The taller the sun dog, the more these objects are wobbling as they move through the atmosphere. Oregon Coast Hotels for this event - Where to eat - Map - Virtual Tour

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