The Recovering Farmer

Monday, February 3, 2014

A Superior Mirage

Two headlines this morning that really bother me. “Coldest Winter In 64 Years” and “Wiarton Willie Predicts Six More Weeks”. I am desperately looking for positives as the weather keeps being miserable. And with miserable I mean really, really miserable. We seem to be stuck in this Arctic Vortex that is not letting go. Hang on. Willow, Manitoba’s own groundhog, says spring is right around the corner. Do I believe that? If I start basing my future on some stuffed animal tossed into a snowdrift I may be more desperate than I realize.

As I drove into Winnipeg early this week I was again mesmerized by what I saw. It seemed like everything was closer. Before I reached the perimeter I could already clearly see the downtown Winnipeg buildings. It seemed surreal. As I looked around me I saw other sights that are not normally seen from the road I was on. It was amazing. Postcard like.

A few years ago I was traveling into Winnipeg from our home in Wawanesa. It was a bitterly cold morning. I left home before the sun came up. As the sun came up I noticed that the horizon looked different. Almost appeared like a mirage. I had never experienced this before and found myself being mesmerized. Perhaps you know where this is going. When I got to my meeting I excitedly told people what I had seen. I saw a few strange looks. I was told that this often happens when it is really cold.

How about a science lesson. You in the mood for that? I decided to do some research. I googled mirage and came across the following information.

“A mirage is a naturally occurring optical phenomenon in which light rays are bent to produce a displaced image of distant objects or the sky.”

“Mirages can be categorized as "inferior" (meaning lower), "superior" (meaning higher) . . . one kind of superior mirage consisting of a series of unusually elaborate, vertically stacked images, which form a mirage.”
“An inferior mirage is called "inferior" because the mirage is located under the real object. The real object in an inferior mirage is the (blue) sky or any distant (therefore bluish) object in that same direction. The mirage causes the observer to see a bright and bluish patch on the ground in the distance.” Remember what you learnt in school? Trudging through the desert and thinking you see water?

“A superior mirage occurs when the air below the line of sight is colder than the air above it. This unusual arrangement is called a temperature inversion, since warm air above cold air is the opposite of the normal temperature gradient of the atmosphere. Passing through the temperature inversion, the light rays are bent down, and so the image appears above the true object, hence the name superior.”

The information, directly from Wikipedia, goes on describe how this phenomenon works. It certainly is beyond my comprehension. When I read about or hear about the effect of cold and heat on light rays my eyes kind of glaze over and I go, “whatever”. But I will admit that the superior mirage concept is quite fascinating. At the same time, I will add, only if you have seen it.

So there you have it. A science lesson. Sounds impossible really. Next time you are out and about in very cold temperatures check it out. Based on the forecast you should have some opportunity to see what I have talked about. It truly is a sight to be seen. Perhaps the beauty of that can help you survive another few days of this blistering cold, or as some groundhog is telling us, six more weeks. Then again when it isn’t cold we have snow and wind. Which one do you prefer? And, yes, I am basing my future on Willow. Make it a good one.

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