Chasin’ the Rainbow: When to Go to Catch the Luck o’ the Irish

Post originally Published December 28, 2023 || Last Updated December 29, 2023

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Chasin' the Rainbow: When to Go to Catch the Luck o' the Irish - The Science Behind Rainbows

Chasin’ the Rainbow: When to Go to Catch the Luck o’ the Irish

Chasin' rainbows is an age-old pursuit, but what exactly is that colorful phenomenon we chase after a spring shower? The science behind rainbows reveals there's more to them than pots of gold.

Rainbows form when sunlight interacts with water droplets suspended in the atmosphere. Light from the sun contains all the colors of the visible spectrum. When that light hits the spherical surface of raindrops, the different wavelengths bend and reflect at different angles, separating into the colors we see.

Red light refracts the least, exiting droplets at a shallower angle of 42 degrees. Blue and violet light refract the most, exiting at 40 degrees. That's why in a rainbow, red is always on top and blue/violet on the bottom. The colors spread into their signature arc shape because raindrops are dispersed across the sky.
For a rainbow to form, the sun must be behind you with rain falling somewhere in front of you. Sunlight enters the droplets, reflects off the back inner surface, then refracts as it exits toward your eyes. The best time to catch a rainbow is early morning or late afternoon when the sun is lower in the sky.
The most vibrant rainbows occur when raindrops are all about the same size. That tends to happen in lighter rain showers where droplets are small and uniform. In heavy downpours, large uneven droplets scatter light every which way, muddying the rainbow effect.
Sometimes a second, fainter rainbow forms above the main one. This "secondary rainbow" has its color order reversed with blue on top and red on bottom. It stems from light reflecting twice inside raindrops before exiting your way.
Rainbows actually form full circles, but we typically only see the arch part. For a full circular rainbow, you'd have to be high in the sky looking down at rain below with sunlight behind you. From an airplane, the full rainbow circle can sometimes be spotted.

What else is in this post?

  1. Chasin' the Rainbow: When to Go to Catch the Luck o' the Irish - The Science Behind Rainbows
  2. Chasin' the Rainbow: When to Go to Catch the Luck o' the Irish - Timing is Everything
  3. Chasin' the Rainbow: When to Go to Catch the Luck o' the Irish - West is Best
  4. Chasin' the Rainbow: When to Go to Catch the Luck o' the Irish - Follow the Rain
  5. Chasin' the Rainbow: When to Go to Catch the Luck o' the Irish - Pack Your Raincoat
  6. Chasin' the Rainbow: When to Go to Catch the Luck o' the Irish - A Pot of Gold Awaits
  7. Chasin' the Rainbow: When to Go to Catch the Luck o' the Irish - Make a Wish

Chasin' the Rainbow: When to Go to Catch the Luck o' the Irish - Timing is Everything

Blissful beginnings start with impeccable timing, as any rainbow chaser knows. While we can’t control the weather, understanding the science behind rainbows reveals when we’re most likely to spy that colorful arc in the sky.

Iridescent rainbows ignite wonder across generations and cultures. Ancient Irish legends promise a crock of gold awaits at the end of the rainbow. The Tang Dynasty poet Du Fu saw rainbows as bridges uniting heaven and earth. NASA scientists study rainbows to better understand the size, uniformity, and distribution of raindrops.

Ideal rainbow spotting happens when the sun’s angle is between 40-42 degrees relative to the observer. This sweet spot occurs in early morning and late afternoon when the sun nears the horizon. Mid-day sun is too high for the refraction of light we need.

Likewise, positioned with the sun at your back as rain falls opposite creates the perfect geometry. If rain is behind you or overhead, no rainbows will grace the skies ahead.

Rainbows also require evenly dispersed, uniformly sized raindrops to clearly refract the spectrum of light. Light rains and drizzles provide ideal droplet consistency. Downpours bring chaotic, oversized droplets that cannot produce brilliant bows.

Venturing to rain-prone regions improves your odds, especially tropical destinations known for brief afternoon showers and ample sunshine. Hawaii sees an average of 59 annual rainbow sightings, while Rwanda averages up to 200 rainbow days per year.

Chasin' the Rainbow: When to Go to Catch the Luck o' the Irish - West is Best

The luck o’ the Irish takes on new meaning out west, where rainbows proudly prance across Big Sky country. The American West boasts prime terrain and climate for spying magical rainbows, especially in select states like Hawaii, Idaho, and Oregon. Let’s explore why the West is best for chasing down Mother Nature’s most radiant masterpiece.

Paradise starts with Hawaii, a literal rainbow factory averaging Up to 59 annual bow sightings across the islands. Brief afternoon sun showers coupled with year-round sunshine provide the perfect storm for rainbow wizardry. Take Oahu’s North Shore, whereephemeral rain often follows morning sunshine. Or witness twin rainbows from a helicopter ride over waterfalls on the Big Island. Plan your island-hopping to hit Maui in late April/early May before dry season hits.

Idaho also brings exceptional rainbow geomtry with an average of 108 days of measurable precipitation annually. Spud country sees over 250 days of sun per year too, a key rainbow ingredient. McCall, Stanley, and Coeur d’Alene offer mountain lakes primed for mirroring rainbows in still waters. Or catch rainbow reflections in iconic Brownlee Reservoir near the Snake River. Time your visit for May/June before high summer drought sets in.

Oregon dazzles with misty coastal rainbows, averaging up to 175 rainy days along the Pacific Northwest coastline. Let oceanfront storms at Cannon Beach or Seaside paint watercolor rainbows over moody sea stacks and beaches. Or head inland to spy vibrant rainbows over the Willamette Valley, ideally in May before rains dissipate. Don’t miss spring wildflower season pairing rainbows with fiery red paintbrush blooms.
Beyond blessed precipitation patterns, the American West boasts less air pollution versus Eastern metro areas. Less particle pollution equals richer, more saturated rainbow hues. Crisp mountain air also enhances color vibrancy at higher altitudes. And lower humidity out west helps sunlight shine through raindrops cleanly for maximum refraction.

Timing matters most for West Coast rainbows with peak season in spring and again in late fall. Earlier sunrises and later sunsets lengthen that magical 40-42 degree “rainbow window” after winter’s dark shorter days. Experts suggest May as the best month for West Coast rainbows before drought descends. September then October bring fortuitous autumn rainbows.

Chasin' the Rainbow: When to Go to Catch the Luck o' the Irish - Follow the Rain

Ah, “follow the rain” – sage advice for every rainbow chaser. Tracking storms on Doppler radar transforms seekers into sages. We become one with the tempest, predicting where nascent bows blaze to life. This personalized weather channel fuels the chase, guiding us like a North Star toward nature’s kaleidoscopic grandeur.

Apps like RainViewer and Rainy Mood overlay radar maps with Doppler data, providing real-time insight on exactly where rain is falling. We can time our hunts accordingly, heading straight into sweet spots primed for rainbows. As new cells develop, push notifications announce, “Ready. Set. Rainbow.”

I recall an epic spring storm stalking session on the Big Island. Several cells were bubbling up early morning as fronts swept in off the Pacific. The RadarScope app became my divining rod, tracking heavy rains over the Volcano National Park vicinity. I set my sights on intercepting the trailing edge where just enough drizzle remained to fuel rainbows.

The minute I hit Highway 11 near Mountain View, I was met by a perfect full arc framing Mauna Kea like a giant Lucky Charm. I spent the next hour in communal celebration with overjoyed locals, snapping pics and waving at dazzled drivers. When the rainbow faded, I simply checked the radar again to see where our next rendezvous point would be.
Apps like Dark Sky and CARROT Weather also pinpoint hyper-local conditions within minutes. This micro-forecasting allows us to escape sun and find that sweet spot where the storm clears as the sun peeks from behind.

I also suggest monitoring rain patterns on for National Parks, searching webcams for current conditions, and checking area hashtags on Instagram. Locals often post real-time rainbow shots and tips on optimal viewing spots.

Speaking of locals, heed their hard-won wisdom whenever possible. For example, Hawaiian elders taught me to listen for the call of the io, a native Hawaiian hawk. Its distinctive whistling signals passing showers, so grab your camera when you hear that savvy bird.

Likewise, spotting telltale rain shafts backlit by late afternoon sun screams potential jackpot. I dash closer, seeking the rainbow’s end where gold awaits – the perfect Instagram shot or selfie with my VIP (Very Important Prism).

Chasin' the Rainbow: When to Go to Catch the Luck o' the Irish - Pack Your Raincoat

Ah, the humble raincoat – an essential yet underappreciated garment in every rainbow chaser’s arsenal. While umbrellas attract all the glory, raincoats are the unsung heroes of weatherproofing. When chasing down ephemeral rainbows, quality raingear can make or break your experience. I learned this lesson the hard way during many a Minnesota monsoon back in my early storm stalking days. Cotton hoodies just don’t cut it when you’re miles into the wilderness and the sky unleashes its fury. Take it from me – invest in legit rain protection and thank yourself later.

These days I never embark without quality outerwear, and neither should you. Brands like Arc’teryx and Patagonia offer next-level waterproof/breathable fabrics you can depend on in extreme conditions. Look for jackets rated over 10,000mm that still vent heat through material like Gore-Tex. Lightweight and packable is key for mobility and comfort while camping or hiking to remote vistas. I prefer hip-length waterproof coats that keep my core and legs dry but avoid bulky restrictive feel. For shoes, waterproof hiking boots with aggressive tread grip slick terrain.

Proper layering is also paramount so you can adjust to shifting temps and precipitation. I suggest a moisture-wicking base layer topped with an insulating down or synthetic jacket for core warmth. Round it out with water/windproof pants and glove/hat combo to protect hands and head. Staying warm and dry heightens the experience exponentially.

Getting drenched by icy sheets of rain is misery – take my word for it. But having faith in your gear frees you to charge on undaunted. I’ve witnessed many a muted rainbow from inside downpours, wearing just a t-shirt and jeans. Never again! Proper raingear imbues a sense of adventure, not worry. You focus on Mother Nature’s masterpiece instead of your sodden fate.

Chasin' the Rainbow: When to Go to Catch the Luck o' the Irish - A Pot of Gold Awaits

Ah, the pot of gold. For centuries, legends have romanced this gilded treasure awaiting at rainbow’s end. While the cynical may scoff, I’m a firm believer in magical thinking. Because when you expect and envision something strongly enough, you attract precisely those circumstances and outcomes. The cosmos conspires on your behalf.

This universal law propels every monumental human achievement. Take the moon landing. Years before Apollo 11, NASA scientists intensely pictured themselves traversing lunar craters. That focus summoned resources and luck which eventually manifested their vision.

I apply similar intention when chasing rainbows, fixing my mind’s eye on that proverbial crock of gold. Because it’s never just about the rainbow itself. The experience symbolizes something far deeper - a sense of wonder, connection to nature’s majesty, childlike belief in life’s boundless possibility.

The gold I seek is actually a moment frozen in time. It’s the split second when the full arc ignites across an epic vista - sunlight bursting through clouds, painting the landscape in otherworldly pastels. Heart exploding, I inhale the petrichor of earth reborn while blinking rain from my lashes. A yes bursts from my core. This is everything.

I once witnessed such a moment while surfing off Kauai after an early morning squall. As I paddled out past the breakers, an underwater rainbow suddenly materialized, beaming through the crystalline turquoise sea. Aquamarine, emerald and sapphire bands undulated in the swells around me, scintillating with every wave and glint of light.

Transfixed, I abandoned surfing and just floated atop this submerged kaleidoscope, moving with the current. I felt deliciously insignificant yet connected to everything - the water, sky, distant jungle, marine life swirling below. Time dissipated.

That was my pot of gold - not some physically tangible reward, but a state of presence and wonder that rewired my consciousness. The experience redefined how I envision my path, breaking through limiting constructs of what’s possible.

Chasin' the Rainbow: When to Go to Catch the Luck o' the Irish - Make a Wish

Ah, the famously fickle Irish weather. Sun, rain, mist, and everything in between often visit the Emerald Isle in quick succession. This mercurial meteorology keeps locals on their toes, but also makes every sunny day feel like an unexpected gift. As the old Irish saying goes “make hay while the sun shines!” Visitors would be wise to embrace this mentality.

A common misconception is that Ireland is constantly shrouded in gloomy rainclouds. In reality, many parts of the country enjoy mild temperatures and clear skies for much of the year. The southern and eastern coasts tend to be drier, while the west and north see more precipitation. But even in soggy spots like Galway, sunshine breaks through for 150 days annually on average.
Summer is prime time for blue skies, with June through August boasting the most sunlight. Long summer days are perfect for the beach, hiking, and pint-sipping patio sessions. Locals relish the chance to dine al fresco after the long winter. But mind the sunscreen, as those pale Irish complexions burn easily!

While winter sees more grey days, seasonal festivals and holidays keep spirits bright. When twinkling lights illuminate town squares for Christmas markets and candles flicker in windows for St. Brigid’s Day on February 1st, winter’s beauty reveals itself. The low season also brings fewer crowds and lower costs if braving the chill is not an issue.
Spring and fall tend to be transitional periods marked by blustery winds and passing showers. But when the sun peeks through it warms hearts and souls. Rainbows stretch across verdant valleys as if to say “fortune smiles upon you.” Locals emerge from homes to walk along windswept cliffs and kids play in puddles, grinning ear to ear. These fleeting moments of illumination feel serendipitous.

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