Jackson Hole, WY News

This appeared in the Jackson Hole News on Dec. 28, 2000:

On a chilly morning last week I ran late for my regular routine, consisting of a sprint up Snow King Mountain, a quick dip in Flat Creek and a couple of hours of intensive aerobic physical therapy. Anyway ... I was home at around 9 a.m. Glancing out a window to the southeast, I was struck by the intensity and length of what I initially called an icebow or sundog. Bright-hued spears of prism light. Brilliant vertical segments of halos, spaced on either side of the sunrise, arced and persistent. The Muse and I were able to enjoy it from around 9:15 to 9:45 a.m.

More properly identified, it was one of rather many atmospheric halo phenomena. Halo phenomena can occur when there is a cirrocumulus cloud — a cloud composed of ice crystals — between the observer and the sun (or moon). Refraction of sun rays through the ice crystals can lead to halo phenomena.

Our line of sight from the particular window is toward the western end of Snow King. Although cirrocumulus clouds occurring naturally in the atmosphere are from around 20,000 to 40,000 feet in altitude. Surely, though, on this morning (and as it turned out the following one) artificial snowmaking at the ski resort at temperatures around minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit or thereabouts was producing a cloud or fog of particulate ice crystals. Unbranched ice crystals in a predominantly particular form — needles, columns or platelets. Conditions were just right: low temperatures, no wind, sun coming over the mountain, snowmaking underway. May be commonplace for some, but not for everyone.

There’s a small halo of 22 degrees around or from the sun or moon, and a large one of 46 degrees. A person is supposed easily to be able to figure out which one thusly: Hold your arm outstretched, and if the distance from the sun or moon seems to stretch from the thumb to the little finger it’s a 22-degree halo. Well, given the opportunities for error in this particular rule of thumb, finger and arm, I concluded this particular halo was a 46-degree one.

The following day, and rather earlier in the morning, there was again a halo effect plus a light pillar. This a column of light extending above the sun itself.

If you are interested in this sort of phenomena — clouds, snow, storms, ice, rain and all like that there — I can recommend a Peterson Field Guide entitled “Atmospheres” by Vincent J. Schaefer and John A. Day. Vincent Schaefer was the inventor of cloud seeding and went on to direct the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center at the State University of New York. Frank Craighead worked with Vince Schaefer, and I was fortunate to have known Vince. (There’s a well-respected relative of his in Jackson Hole whom I have not yet met.) Dr. Schaefter did a lot of work in Yellowstone National Park in winter, taking advantage of particular weather conditions there to continue certain aspects of his research.

In his field guide the remark is made that “the incessant rising and sinking of cloud and non cloud produces the intricate patterns of cloud and non cloud whose interpolation challenges the best scientific minds.” I presume to add, enchants, instructs and can delight any inquisitive mind. Furthermore, it refutes Raynes’ Law IV, to the effect that any good hobby requires the expenditure of a lot of cash (for equipment, trips, bragging rights, etc.) before you abandon it for something else. Just look to the skies, y’all.

Note: The geography of the valley of Jackson Hole provides that from its southern end opportunities are greatest for enjoying the particular sunrise halo phenomena described here. Inquiry has verified this, but it was a delightful surprise for me.

Field notes: On Jan. 18 30 cedar waxwings made a visit to Dee Parker’s in Wilson. Dee also had a pair of bald eagles; Dee surmised they were checking out possible nesting sites. They moved on.

A truly surprising report of a Virginia rail in Teton Valley at Packsaddle Creek, reported by David Durtschi on Jan. 18. Wow.

Pine siskins have been appearing at feeders in Teton Valley, spotted by Susan Patla, in Packsaddle Creek, and Earl Layser, in Alta.

Mark Huffman saw two male pine grosbeaks on Jan. 24 in Cache Creek who found deep piles of snow balanced on high pine boughs and dove in, rolling around, getting snow under their wings and generally grooming.

Look for an occasional robin or other fruit-eating winter birds such as cedar or Bohemian waxwings and solitaires.

Decent enough snow cover, but the buckrails ain’t covered yet.

Bert Raynes writes weekly on whatever suits his fancy with a dash of news on nature and its many ways thrown in.

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