A Reverse Rainbow

So, what’s a reverse rainbow? Let me explain.

I grew up in the Central Appalachians, where summer showers generally pressed more or less easterly, and most commonly (as do convection-spirited showers everywhere) occurred in the afternoon and evening. The same holds true here in northern Alabama. Here’s the scenario. These heat-and-moisture-enabled pop-up showers often drop heavy rain and quickly move on, followed by rapidly clearing skies, allowing the now sinking-toward-the-western horizon bright sun to illuminate the retreating rain shield. Presto, a rainbow. Not every time yet often enough that the colorful spectacle and its promise of good fortune is anything but rare… yet always a nice visual (and emotional) treat! I viewed the rainbow as what came after the rain. Such was the case with this spring 2016 rainbow; here’s the evening view looking east from my back patio toward a departing shower.

Saturday evening (6:30 PM) July 7, 2018, I had just watched a thundershower pass east-to-west 3-4 miles south of us. Northern Alabama sat on the far south perimeter of a sprawling high pressure system over the eastern US. Its clockwise spin sweeping moist Atlantic Ocean air west across South Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia, creating deep instability over us. I watched radar with disappointment as the shower missed us — we could use some rain more significant that the 0ne-tenth-inch I measured earlier in the day from two brief passing showers. As I sat watching, vertically bubbling cumulus began to build east of us, their cauliflower tops visibly reaching higher rapidly. Soon radar indicated a spot of red (a deep echo return indicating a shaft of heavy rain) beginning to spread 5-7 miles away. Conditions were triggering new development up-flow from us. My hopes rose. The sky began to darken and then evidence an approaching shower-cell with an emerging shelf cloud. Look closely. There in advance of the rain with the evening sun shining brightly on the homes along Big Blue Lake, a faint rainbow identifies the mists blowing down and forward of the main rain curtain. So, here’s the evening view looking east from my back patio toward an approaching shower — along with its reverse rainbow!

By this time (below) the deep booming and growling from cloud-to-ground early stage lightning sounded within four miles… and closing. We could hear the wind as the shelf cloud bore toward us. Gusts hit us with sprays of mist within just a few seconds of this photo.

Because we scrambled to secure patio furniture cushions indoors, I missed snapping a photo of the first large drops hitting the lake surface with the sun still shining. Only as the downpour began did the darkness from 30-50,000 feet of thunderstorm above us bring the very special light-show to an end.

I checked the radar again. The spreading spot of red had blossomed into a large mass. The cell reached maximum rainfall production right over us, dropping an inch. The storm punched us with multiple strikes whose thunder cracked nearly simultaneously with the flash. I enjoyed Nature’s gift of welcomed rain and special show:

  • Just the day prior I watched a solid line of mature storms march our way and generate an outflow boundary that sparked a new line beyond us, in effect skipping over us with nary a drop of rain.
  • This one blew up just upstream and then gave us its best shot of rain and lightning.
  • Rarely do our storms move from east to west — this one surprised me with its movement.
  • I don’t recall another time when I saw a rainbow lead the charge — conditions proved serendipitous — similar to eating dessert before the main course!


I often see people lost in digital devices. My only digital distraction for this July thunderstorm — the iPhone-accessible radar that informed and amplified my observations and gleanings. I can’t imagine a video game or TV program more senses-rich than watching and learning from Nature. I could not possibly have estimated the value I registered in experiencing the development, approach, and passing of such a simple act of power and fury. An act of controlled violence… controlled by the immutable laws of atmospheric physics. Ours is a planet of turbulence… turbulence whose sole purpose is to achieve balance and equilibrium. The old truth applies: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

I appreciate the lessons embedded in Nature’s forces and mechanisms. Knowing the science underlying the violence amplifies my embrace of the resultant beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. I view that accentuation as akin to how knowing music increases the aesthetic gift from a symphony; how understanding the act of painting enhances our awe of a work of art.

Nature teaches that even the most tumultuous summer thunderstorm evolves according to knowable laws, forces, and actions. Understandable even if not precisely predictable. If only the same were true of the chaos and turbulence in Washington D.C. Passion, emotion, and self-preservation dominate that field of play. Similar to the storm I enjoyed, so much in our nation’s capital creates gust fronts… gusts of sanctimonious bloviation. Ah, if only I could comprehend politics and view it with appreciation, awe, and inspiration.

I suppose there are those who understand politics as well as I do Nature. And those who enjoy politics as much as I do natural phenomenon. I choose to stick with Nature. Perhaps I will more conscientiously contemplate whether and how Nature’s lessons for living, learning, serving, and leading might apply to politics. I am sure they do yet I am unwilling at the moment to penetrate that morass.

I will conclude this Post with deep appreciation for the purpose and natural laws that govern life and living on this Earth. A thunderstorm is Nature’s atmospheric venting… a pressure relief valve. How will Nature relieve the pressures associated with a burgeoning human population and the consequences of the cumulative demands we place upon our One Earth? The storm I witnessed rose to vent an explosive point (time and place) of atmospheric instability. How will Earth and natural systems seek and secure life system stability as we continue to expand our call upon resources of soil, water, and air? The Earth system will secure balance and stability, perhaps at our species’ peril.

I hope we as a species can find our own way to secure balance and stability. Judy and I worry about our five grandchildren and the multiple burdens we are placing on their shoulders.

May Nature Inspire all that you do!


Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2018 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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