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Sundogs dancing on the landscape

The bitter cold temperatures have blown into the Midwest sending us into the deep freeze. It’s been tough to remember exactly why we live here when it’s this cold, but the magnificent sights during recent sunrises and sunsets have helped.

If you haven’t been out and about, you’ve probably missed all the beautiful sun dogs that have been dancing in the landscape.

It seems everyone has been enjoying them as there’s one on our front page, the front page of Canby’s newspaper and it seems that every other photo on social media is of a sun dog.

Cherri and I’s personal “weatherlore” expert called us on Monday morning to share her expertise about sun dogs. She told me that the sun dogs mean there will be four more days of cold and if you see a ring around the sun, that means that precipitation is on the way.

I’m not sure about the precipitation part, but I do know that the presence of sun dogs definitely mean cold air is here and here to stay.

I was paging through the “Old Farmer’s Almanac,” that our resident weatherlore expert brought us and was reading the section about sun dogs.

Basically, all I knew about sun dogs was that they are really pretty and seeing them means it’s cold here on the frozen tundra.

Sun dogs are also known as parhelia, which the scientific name comes from the Greek word parēlion, meaning “beside the sun.”

Sun dogs are cousins of rainbows. Sometimes they look like bright pieces of rainbows on either side of the sun.

Other times they are brighter and actually look like two extra suns. You see rainbows when you look away from the sun. You see sundogs when you look toward the sun (The Farmer’s Almanac and The National Weather Service advise not looking directly into the sun).

If the ice crystals are falling flat, then you see a bright point of light on either side of the sun. They are frequently called “mock suns” or “phantom suns”.

The most common name is the one I’ve been using, sun dogs.

There aren’t any official sources of how they received the name sun dog, but it’s speculated that their name comes from the fact they follow the sun like a dog follows its master.

Sun dogs occur when sunlight is refracted from ice crystals found in the earth’s atmosphere. The hexagonal shape to ice crystals acts like a prism, refracting and bending the sun’s rays in a horizontal fashion creating the small rainbows.

They are most commonly seen on very cold days, when there are more ice crystals present in the atmosphere, and at sunrise or sunset when the sun is lower on the horizon, which is why many of us have been spotting them over the past few days.

Sun dogs are most common on very cold days, but they can happen anywhere and during any time of the year as long as ice crystals are present in the atmosphere, whether suspended in very cold air or in existing in high cirrus clouds.

When sun dogs are present due to high cirrus clouds, they can actually be used as a forecast tool.

Since high clouds up in the atmosphere move faster, the high clouds out ahead of a storm system can often be seen first before the lower clouds and precipitation arrive.

I believe that’s what my weatherlore expert was getting at. Sun dogs (or “snow bows” if using them to predict snow) often foretell precipitation in the next 12-24 hours.

Whether you are interested in what sun dogs can tell you or you simply can’t wait for summer, you have to admit they sure are pretty.

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