Circumhorizontal arc over Dearborn, MI
© Kara Gavin
Circumhorizontal arc over Dearborn, Michigan on Wednesday
Photos of colorful clouds over Michigan and other nearby states have been circulating social media this week.

Sometimes this phenomenon is referred to as a "fire rainbow," but the meteorological term is a "circumhorizontal arc."

The colors come from scattered sunlight through horizontal plates of ice crystals. Circumhorizontal arcs usually are seen in the afternoon on a sunny day. Cirrus clouds (the wispy clouds) are made of ice crystals, since the clouds are so high up. The ice crystals that make up these clouds can refract light from the sun when at a steep angle greater than 58°.

Circumhorizontal arc graphic
Circumhorizontal arcs aren't rare, but you do have to be at the right place at the right time.

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