‘Light Pillar’ Phenomenon Visible Across Much of America During Bone-Chilling Cold Snap

A thick, warm blanket. A crackling fireplace. A piping mug of hot cocoa.

And … light pillars?

As a mid-February cold front refuses to release much of the United States from its clutches, many Americans are no doubt reacquainting themselves with all coping mechanisms they use to deal with sub-freezing temperatures.

While light pillars won’t keep you physically warm, they may brighten your day or night — as they have for residents across the country recently.

You may have already seen them — the majestic, shining columns of light beaming up from the oft-snow-covered Earth to the heavens.

So what exactly is this optical wonder that’s been reported in multiple states, including Michigan, Nebraska, New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania?

“Light pillars are an optical phenomenon caused when light is refracted by ice crystals. These lights tend to take on the color of the light source,” AccuWeather reported in 2017.

“They appear as beams of light to the observer. It is usually caused by street lights. However, any source of light can create a light pillar given proper conditions,” AccuWeather meteorologist David Samuhel said at the time.

Usually, they occur farther north than the U.S.

“I believe people have not heard nearly as much about light pillars due to the fact they are mostly observed in very cold climates where few people live,” Samuhel said.

There are two main prerequisites that must normally be met in order for light pillars to be visible: The air must be extremely cold and extremely calm, CNN reported.

“These pillars typically occur on cold, winter mornings when the temperatures are colder than 10°F,” the U.S. National Weather Service in La Crosse, Wisconsin, wrote on Facebook in January 2020.


“On these mornings, plate-shaped ice crystals, normally only present in high clouds, float in the air close to the ground and their horizontal facets reflect light back downwards.”

“The pillars are not physically over the lights or anywhere else in space for that matter – like all halos they are purely the collected light beams from all the millions of crystals which just happen to be reflecting light toward your eyes or camera.”

Who knows? Depending on where you live, this optical wonder may be coming soon to a snow day near you.

This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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