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    Jesse Ferrell

    Strange Light Pillars in Northeast Last Night...

    By Jesse Ferrell, Meteorologist/Community Director
    12/03/2008, 8:46:41 AM

    A number of folks have asked what the "strange lights" were last night in and around the Philadelphia area. Here is a photo submitted to our Photo Gallery by Leslie from Royersburg, PA:


    Leslie says: "They were mainly facing east - towards Philly. They diminished as you moved away from the brighter Philly lights." (Interesting aside, Leslie was a client of our Forensics department in the past, and her association with AccuWeather caused her to donate these photos today. It all comes full-circle, man.)

    Was it Aurora? No. While it does look like somewhat like aurora, it is in front of the clouds illuminated by the ambient light from Philly in the distance. Not to mention, aurora activity, shown in yellow on this map, was limited to the North Pole last night, according to NOAA.


    Was it Light Pillars? Yes. There is an in-depth explanation of them on the Atmospheric Optics site. While that page doesn't show the "suspended pillars" as we do here, they do have a photo of that. (You think that's weird, check this out).

    The lights are from the ground, streetlights or other industrial lighting that was not shielded properly (althougt it's more efficient to reflect light to the ground, light makers are sometimes too lazy to do this). They are "suspended" because there was only a thin layer of ice crystals (see below for more on that).

    It's nice to think that this was something heretofore unseen in our atmosphere (or a returning UFO!), but it just wasn't the case this time. Atmospheric Optics is the first place I look when I see something like this. They've truly seen it all.

    Thanks to AccuWeather meteorologists Mike Sager, Jim Andrews and Lisa Beightol (who also writes our Astronomy blog) for their help in quickly diagnosing the event. By the way, we don't entirely agree with the article explaining the event written by an AccuWeather meteorologist at WPVI (thanks to our Astronomy blogger for the tip), where he says that the lights were "thin columns of snowflakes falling out of the clouds." I think what we're looking at here was simply a layer of ice crystals in the atmosphere (if you take the photo above and "turn it downwards" in your mind, you can imagine the pillars lining up to show the layer of ice crystals more obviously.

    According to that article, the lights were also spotted in New Jersey. Maryland Weather Blogger Frank Roylance has also listed Light Pillars as an explanation.

    The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or AccuWeather.com


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    Jesse Ferrell