Double rainbows look down on Washington, D.C.: what does it mean?


A double rainbow observed from Rosslyn Wednesday evening. (@LittleNewton on Twitter)

When the narrator of this awesomely bizarre video ponders “what does it mean?”, it’s more of an existential question than a scientifc one. I can’t tell you the Greater meaning of a double rainbow, but I can share the science of how it forms by reprinting this helpful description from NOAA:

The rainbow we normally see is called the primary rainbow and is produced from one internal reflection. The secondary rainbow arises from two internal reflections and the rays exit the drop the second time at an angle of around 50 [degrees], rather than the 42 [degrees] for the primary rainbow. This effect produces the secondary rainbow, with the colors reversed from the primary rainbow. It is possible for light to be reflected more than twice within a raindrop, but these additional rainbows are typically never seen under normal circumstances.

I can also share some great rainbow photos submitted by our Twitter followers. Keep reading to see them...


Double rainbow over the Lincoln from Memorial Bridge. (Heidi Leech via Facebook)

Double Rainbow viewed from Kennedy Center in the District (@NoPants_McGee on Twitter)

Double rainbow over Seven Corners in Falls Church (@jgarber on Twitter)

Double rainbow viewed from Ballston (@Rkanjl via Twitter)

Double rainbow image taken from Georgetown. (@NoBatteries on Twitter)

Double rainbow over Arlington and Columbia Pike (@espinweber on Twitter)

Last but not least, the image below is not a double rainbow, but a spectacular nearly full-on rainbow over the District, taken from the WeatherBug camera at WJLA (ABC7) over Rosslyn.


Nearly full rainbow across the Washington D.C. sky... from @WeatherBug camera at WJLA studios around 5:30pm (@WeatherBugMedia via Twitter)

How to see a rainbow or a double rainbow? NOAA offers this advice:

* You need to be standing with the sun to your back and the rain in front of you.

* The sun needs to be less than 42 degrees above the horizon [morning or evening is best for rainbow viewing].

* The sun’s rays must be hitting the raindrops to create the rainbow.

Did you take any rainbow pictures yesterday? Submit them to our Weather photo gallery and view other weather images...

Jason is currently the Washington Post’s weather editor. A native Washingtonian, Jason has been a weather enthusiast since age 10.
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