Freezing fog creates rare light pillars in Wisconsin on Sunday

By Chaffin Mitchell, AccuWeather staff writer
December 11, 2018, 7:24:06 PM EST

A rare phenomenon called light pillars were seen beaming up to the night's sky in Beloit, Wisconsin, on Sunday evening.

The National Weather Service (NWS) reported over five hours of freezing fog in that area, which create the perfect conditions for light pillars.

Light pillars are an optical phenomenon caused when light is refracted by ice crystals. These lights tend to take on the color of the light source.

"They appear as beams of light to the observer. It is usually caused by street lights. However, any source of light can create a light pillar given proper conditions," AccuWeather Meteorologist David Samuhel said.

For ice crystals to form, the conditions need to be extremely calm and cold, without wind. For the light pillars to show, the ice crystals need to be near the ground.

"Typically, ice crystals are small enough to remain suspended in the air and only form when temperatures are below zero [F]," Samuhel said. "In most instances, temperatures are minus 10 to 20 degrees or colder."

Samuhel said the pillars occur under high pressure without any storm present.

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"There is no tie between storms and the pillars," Samuhel said. "A storm system would disrupt the pillar formation with wind and precipitation."

They typically occur farther north; however, they can be seen in other areas of the United States if conditions are right.

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