As the heavy rain, lightning and gusty winds pushed out of the D.C. metro on Tuesday evening, the severe weather left behind a trail of undulating clouds that triggered an amazing sunset.
Sunsets tend to be most brilliant when there’s clean air — like the kind that’s been washed of pollution by heavy rain — and mid- or high-level clouds for the sun’s rays to bounce off of. Last night, instead of just one layer of clouds for the sunlight to reflect from, there were ragged low and mid-level clouds and above that a more uniform deck of altostratus.
As the post-storm clouds streamed southeast across the metro, they reflected the sun’s upward rays back toward Earth and to our watching eyes. All of the different elements came together to create a multi-layer sunset that looked like brush stokes on a canvas.
If you missed it, this timelapse by Ken Nisbet captures what it looked like in motion. The two layers of clouds stream toward the camera at slightly different angles (they were moving in different directions), and as the sun sinks toward the horizon, the light on the clouds morphs between different brightness and hues.
To make the sunset even more interesting, there was a brief period of mammatus clouds after the storms had passed — a fairly common occurrence since these clouds are indicative of sinking air. Mammatus look like small pouches hanging beneath a deck of high-level clouds — often altocumulus or altostratus — and they form as the air in the cloud cools and sinks, which causes the bottom of the cloud to fall out in this lobe-looking way.
Toward the end of the show, the sky began to take on more of a pink hue before a final flash of red before the sun sank entirely below the horizon.
Jason Samenow contributed to this post.