One Cool Side Effect of Arctic Air: Sun & Light Pillars

Posted at 6:29 AM, Jan 08, 2014
and last updated 2014-01-08 08:25:27-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Snow, blowing snow, and ice crystals in the clouds have caused a lot of problems for West Michigan this week — however, there is one photogenic facet of all that cold air.  Phenomena known as “light pillars,” “sun pillars,” and “sun dogs”  have been seen across the area over the past couple of days.

Sun dogs are not terribly rare, and are seen at many times of year — they appear at around 22° angles on one or both sides of the sun as it shines through thin cirrus clouds that contain ice crystals that refract the light.  But this week, the cold air and blowing snow has resulted in extensive ice crystals floating in the atmosphere near the surface.  This creates a situation where any light source near the horizon can generate a pillar of light that shoots up vertically into the sky.  When the sun is rising or setting, it can appear in conjunction with sun dogs, as seen in the pictures below:


Sun Pillar & Sun Dogs – Jason Dykstra, Shelbyville


Sun Pillar and Sun Dogs – Photo: Audrey Debri (via Joe Kas on Twitter)

The effect is even more breathtaking when it happens with artificial lights at the surface, because you will often see multiple beams of light skyrocketing into the night sky.  These photos came in from FOX 17 viewers Wednesday morning:


Light Pillars – Jen Pulham via Facebook


Light Pillars – Melanie Daler, Lake Odessa

Similar pillars were reported in places like Greenville and Ionia.

Don’t forget to post your weather-related photos on the FOX 17 Facebook page or Twitter with the hashtag #FOX17snow.  You can also email photos to