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Chasing Sun Dogs

By Jane Whitmore - | Feb 18, 2021

Throughout the arctic blast that sent us into sub-zero temperatures, I have been on the lookout for sun dogs.

As a child, I remember my mother talking about sun dogs and pointing them out to us when they appeared in the cold winter sky. It’s a spectacular winter phenomenon.

For the past few of weeks I have been watching the sky for sun dogs so we could pass a photo along to our readers. Nothing – even though friends reported seeing sun dogs in the western sky at evening.

This from Wikipedia:

“A sun dog (or sundog) or mock sun, formally called a parhelion (plural parhelia) in meteorology, is an atmospheric optical phenomenon that consists of a bright spot to one or both sides of the Sun. Two sun dogs often flank the Sun within a 22° halo.

“The sun dog is a member of the family of halos caused by the refraction of sunlight by ice crystals in the atmosphere. Sun dogs typically appear as a pair of subtly colored patches of light, around 22° to the left and right of the Sun, and at the same altitude above the horizon as the Sun. They can be seen anywhere in the world during any season, but are not always obvious or bright. Sun dogs are best seen and most conspicuous when the Sun is near the horizon.”

Here, we ended up scanning the sky most every evening at dusk, just in case the sun dogs would be out.

Key phrases from Wikipedia: “refraction and scattering of light from plate-shaped hexagonal ice crystals” and “freezing moist air”. Perhaps there was simply not enough moisture in the air for the sun dogs to appear.

Mid-afternoon Sunday, there were sun dogs in the sky! This was the opportunity I had been waiting for. Sitting in my vehicle at Harrison Park, I watched the sun dogs as they disappeared behind the clouds and then reappeared as the clouds moved along. The sun dogs had just a hint of color. The photo on the front of The Reporter was the best of the group of photos from Sunday afternoon.

We send The Reporter pages to press late Sunday afternoon. Leaving the newspaper office around 5:30 last Sunday, I looked to the west and didn’t see the sun dogs. Then I turned east and saw the “rainbow” in my rear view mirror. The sun dogs were brilliant, low in the western sky.

Wikipedia says “Sun dogs are red-colored at the side nearest the Sun; farther out the colors grade through oranges to blue.” How true that was Sunday evening.

Text message to my family: “We had sun dogs today.” A couple of them had to look it up.

Then I heard from family in Texas where they were slipping and sliding on ice. This was followed by two or three inches of snow (in south Texas). They lost the fish and plants in their pond and many outdoor plants in the yard. And, they also lost power as did most of their state.

January and February have been memorable winter months, to say the least. We’re looking forward to March!