The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A wild and wonderful Thursday evening sky, followed by a fireball

The D.C. area was treated to a magnificent display including a towering thunderhead, stunning shelf cloud, gorgeous rainbow, amber sunset and bright green fireball.

Rainbow over Ashburn, Va., on Thursday evening. (Mike Kelly)

The sky above Washington put on an incredible show Thursday, starting in the late afternoon and continuing past dark. The quintuple-feature starred a towering thunderhead, menacing shelf cloud, vibrant rainbow, glorious sunset and concluded with a fireball that shot across the night sky.

1. A towering cumulonimbus cloud

The show began with a towering thunderhead or cumulonimbus cloud that unleashed a swift downpour as it darted through the District. The mushroom-shaped cloud posed over the Capitol right around 5 p.m. — its apex looming over the great rotunda.

On social media, people marveled at this billowing cloud as they gazed eastward:

2. An ominous, stunning shelf cloud

The late afternoon cumulonimbus cloud was just an appetizer ahead of a line of storms that swept across much of the region in the hour leading up to sunset. The line was fronted by a scary-looking but striking shelf cloud. These clouds form as cool air expelled from storms is met by warm air out ahead of them.

On our social media feeds, viewers sent us eerily beautiful scenes from Manassas to Annapolis:

3. Gorgeous rainbows

After the line of storms passed and the setting sun intercepted the departing rain drops, beautiful rainbows were seen around the region:

4. An amber sunset

The setting sun not only helped form rainbows but also cast a gorgeous amber glow over the sky:

5. Fireball streaks across the sky

“It was HUGE,” said Jason Jackson, who viewed the fireball in south central Pennsylvania and commented on Capital Weather Gang’s Facebook page. “Lit up the entire western sky and traveled the whole way across before it burned up. Slow and bright and the colors were insane!”

It’s possible the fireball originated from the Dela Aquariids meteor shower, which peaks in late July.

Several people captured it on video: