COLUMBUS, (WCMH) — We have been treated to some colorful sunsets lately. The dazzling reddish-orange sky, blended with layers of yellow, before sunset provided a beautiful backdrop to a refreshing weekend, with lower humidity.

The reason for the artistic shades has to do with the different wavelengths comprising the visible spectrum (sunlight), from violet-indigo-blue (shortest) to yellow-orange-red (longest).

The components of atmospheric gases are considerably smaller than the wavelengths of solar radiation, causing light waves to scatter about after colliding with atoms and molecules in the air.

Spectrum of colors, when white light (sunlight) is refracted (bent) through a prism, revealing the colors of a rainbow, with respective component wavelengths. (NWS/NOAA)

The higher-energy blue light waves scatter most, which is why the sky is blue. However, at sunrise and sunset, when sunlight traverses a much longer path through the atmosphere, the shorter blue wavelengths are mostly scattered out, leaving the longer reddish-orange and yellow colors to dominate the sky near the horizon.

Around sunset looking northwest from downtown Columbus, this image reveals a pale blue sky at the top, fading behind high cirrus clouds (yellow) composed of ice crystals and partially obscured by midlevel altostratus (orange) composed of droplets, causing light waves to be scattered by different particle sizes.


Saturday evening’s glorious reddish-pink and salmon hues were caused by sunlight at a low angle setting below a bank of high-altitude clouds. Ice crystals and water droplets in the clouds became a mirror that reflect light back to our visual field.

A tall thunderstorm surrounded by a layer of moisture backlit by the sun brought a visual treat in parts of northeastern Ohio on the evening of July 20. Moisture particles larger than air molecules scattered the waning sunlight, and reflected red-orange light waves downward that created an eerie sky.

Mammatus clouds on the underside of a severe thunderstorm anvil top near Shelby. (Daren Hamilton)

We occasionally see fiery sunrises and sunsets when wildfire smoke carried by the jet stream from the Western states scatters the red and orange light waves that penetrate the smoky atmosphere.