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Why storms produce beautiful sunsets, sunrises

Air molecules love clean air, which means more violet hues in sky

Following a big storm, Florida's sunsets and sunrises really let us have it with vivid colors, but have you ever wondered why?

The same storms that leave destruction in their wake also create perfect conditions for a brightly colored sky.

The first thing to know about a sunset or sunrise is what is really going on to produce those colors.

Sunlight is composed of a spectrum of colors. Different colors have different wavelengths; for example violets and blues have shorter wavelengths compared to oranges and reds.

Sunset over of Fire House 72 in the Conway area in Orange County following Hurricane Dorian on Sept. 4, 2019. (Image: Orange County Fire Rescue)

The color of the sky is produced by an effect called scattering – or the redirection of sunlight by air molecules, which are very tiny particles, according to Stephen Corfidi, with the NOAA/NWS Storm prediction center, who has written extensively on the topic of sunsets.

Corfidi writes that the main reason the sky puts on such a show after a storm such as a hurricane is that clean air is the perfect ingredient for brightly colored sunrises and sunsets.

Hurricanes produce a lot of rain, which washes the air of pollutants allowing air molecules to easily scatter. The tiny air molecules are closer in size to the wavelength of violet light than to red. That’s why after a storm sunset colors typically lean toward purple because the air molecules are loving that clean air and easily scattering.

The sun sets behind the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center on Sept. 4, 2019. (Image: NASA)

Pure air scatters violet light three to four times more effectively than it does the longer wavelengths,” according to Corfidi. “In fact, were it not for the fact that human eyes are more sensitive to blue light than to violet, the clear daytime sky would appear violet instead of blue.”

Clouds also play a role in creating colorful shows in the sky.

Certain clouds can produce very beautiful red- and orange-tinted sunsets because they reflect red and orange light to the ground and don’t allow a lot of blue light — which, remember, means more scattered particles -- from the upper atmosphere down.

The takeaway: After a storm has passed, expect a show worth waiting for.

Keep scrolling for more beautiful Central Florida sunsets and sunrises from News 6 and ClickOrlando.com readers.

Hazel Janette Busbee Cochran's great granddaughter Sky took this sunset photo on Sept. 4, 2019 near Clarcona-Ocoee Road in Orange County.
A colorful sunset in Miramar, Florida post Hurricane Dorian on Sept. 4, 2019. (Image: Barbara Besteni)
Sunrise from the Disney Dream cruise ship returning to port Canaveral Sept. 5, 2019. (Image: Cooper Creech)
Sunrise over the Indian River in Titusville. (Image: Nicole DeCostanza)
Sunset in St. Cloud, Fla. following Hurricane Dorian. (Image: Dustin Creech)

 


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